Djokovic Outlasts Nadal In Wimbledon SF Epic
Novak Djokovic earned the biggest win of his comeback from a right elbow injury on Saturday, outlasting World No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 3-6, 10-8 in their record 52nd FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting (Djokovic leads 27-25) after five hours, 15 minutes. The No. 12 seed moves into the Wimbledon final, which will be his first championship match at a major since the 2016 US Open.
"I'm really, really pleased. I was very emotional after the match, as well, because it's been a long 15 months for me, trying to overcome different obstacles," Djokovic said. "To be where I am at the moment is quite satisfying."
Djokovic advances to his fifth title match at The Championships, earning his 250th Grand Slam victory to end Nadal's 16-Grand Slam semi-final winning streak. It is an impressive result for a player who underwent a ‘small medical intervention’ on his right elbow after the Australian Open. Just four months ago, the Serbian superstar found himself in the midst of his first three-match losing streak since 2007, struggling to recover from that injury and leaving the tennis world wondering just how long it would take for the former World No. 1 to find his best form again.
But the 31-year-old showed signs this May at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia of the level that helped him man the top of the ATP Rankings for 223 weeks. He reached his first semi-final of the season, testing Nadal in a straight-sets defeat. A quarter-final showing at Roland Garros and a runner-up finish at the Fever-Tree Championships at The Queen’s Club left the 68-time tour-level champion saying, ‘I’m there’.
And the Serbian showed it under the roof on Saturday when play resumed following Friday evening’s suspension due to curfew, after three sets, staving off some of Nadal’s best tennis to clinch his second five-set victory against the Spaniard. Djokovic has now triumphed in eight consecutive major semi-finals, and is 29-9 in five-setters.
"I think I played a great match," Nadal said. "I have not much more inside me. I gave it my best, and that's it. It's fair to say that was a great match and he beat me. Well done for him. That's all. That's sport."
Djokovic will next face South African Kevin Anderson, who came through the second-longest match in Wimbledon history on Friday, defeating John Isner in a six-hour, 36-minute marathon. The Serbian leads his championship opponent 5-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, holding a five-match winning streak against the 6’8” right-hander.
Their most recent meeting came at SW19 three years ago, when Djokovic overcame a two-set deficit to beat Anderson in the fourth round. The Serbian is 12-9 in Grand Slam finals, while Anderson lost his only major championship match at last year’s US Open.
"I don't know if I'll be the clear favourite in that one. I think we're quite even," Djokovic said. "He played the US Open final last year. He's definitely playing the tennis of his life. He's coming off from two epic marathon five-set wins. I don't think he has much to lose really tomorrow. He's going to come out with big serves and big tennis. Hopefully I'll be able to weather the storm."
Most Grand Slam Match Wins Against Nadal
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There was no doubt that the Spaniard would come out swinging in the fourth set with his back against the wall. And after saving two break points in the first game, Nadal broke Djokovic with aggressive returning, dictating play with his forehand.
And while the No. 12 seed took advantage of a sloppy third service game by Nadal to break back, Nadal rebounded. He once again found his aggressive best to break for the second time in the set, before recovering from 0/40 when serving out the set to force a decider.
Nadal consistently targeted Djokovic’s forehand in the fifth set, especially on the most pressure-packed points on his serve. The 32-year-old Nadal faced break point at 3-4, successfully forcing an error with his serve by attacking the Serbian's forehand. And in the next game, it looked like the Spaniard would use the momentum to storm to a break of his own, gaining a 15/40 advantage as the three-time champion’s forehand began to go awry. But this time it was Djokovic who came up with clutch serves to escape the game.
The Serbian faced two more break points at 7-7, erasing the first with aggressive play and the second with an ace. But Nadal clipped the baseline with a forehand down the line to earn a fifth break point in the decider. This time, however, the left-hander gained control of the point and approached to Djokovic’s vulnerable forehand, but the No. 12 seed had the answer with a curling crosscourt passing shot winner, gesturing to the crowd to cheer.
"I hit a great backhand across. I decided to go inside. It worked very well a lot of times, hitting backhands and going to the net," Nadal said. "He played a great passing shot. If he missed, we would be here talking how brave [I] was that [I] went to the net. He hit a good passing shot."
Djokovic made solid contact on a forehand return while leading 9/8 at 0/40, placing it deep in the court. And after aggressively attacking Nadal's forehand, the Spaniard hooked a shot wide to end the battle. It was an epic meeting between two of tennis' all-time greats. And fittingly for such a tightly contested match, the rivals finished with identical stat lines, hitting 73 winners to just 42 unforced errors apiece.
Nadal will remain No. 1 in the ATP Rankings in Monday, as he just needed to reach the fourth round to guarantee his grip on the top spot.