Djokovic Secures World No. 1 Ranking
by James Buddell|
Novak Djokovic is guaranteed to become No. 1 in the South African Airways 2011 ATP Rankings for the first time on Monday after he advanced to his first final at The Championships. The second-seeded Serbian will now aim to realise another lifelong ambition on Sunday by lifting the Wimbledon trophy against 2008 and 2010 champion Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic defeated Roger Federer's conqueror, 12th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-7(9), 6-3 in three hours and six minutes on Friday afternoon for a place in his second Grand Slam championship final of a memorable season.
"It feels amazing," said Djokovic. "When I finished the match I didn't know how to show my emotions. I was really happy. This is one of those moments where you can't describe it with the words. You remember all your career, all your childhood, everything you worked for, that comes true now.
"It's definitely one of the most important achievements and days in my life, in my career. We are all dedicated to this sport [one] hundred per cent. When you know you're going to be the best in the world and you're reaching the finals of your favourite tournament, it's something special."
The 24-year-old Djokovic, who will replace Nadal as World No. 1, is the sixth active player to ascend to the top of men's professional tennis. This season he has compiled a 47-1 match record, winning seven titles, including the Australian Open (d. Murray) and four ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events.
The Belgrade native is bidding to become just the third man in the Open Era (since 1968) to claim his first grass-court title at the All England Club. He has twice recorded runner-up finishes on grass courts at the 2008 AEGON Championships (l. to Nadal) and the 2009 Gerry Weber Open (l. to Haas).
The enormity of the match, and the implications of a victory, looked to weigh heavily on Djokovic's shoulders in the first set. The Serbian did not hit his serve as fluently and he was broken in the first game. Tsonga started where he left off against Federer on Wednesday, hitting himself out of trouble to save break points at 1-0 and 4-3 to win the affection of the Centre Court crowd. But slowly, his confidence ebbed away. Djokovic began to read the Frenchman's game better and targeted his weakness, backhands out wide, on the slick grass.
At 5-4, Tsonga recovered from 0/40 with booming serves. But he inexplicably double-faulted at deuce, firing a 134 miles per hour second serve long. He then hit a forehand wide much to the delight of Djokovic. In the tie-break, Djokovic was at his attacking best and rushed Tsonga into error after a long rally to take a 4-2 lead. He clinched the 65-minute opener when he hit a forehand down the line that Tsonga could not reach cleanly on the volley.
Tsonga's unforced error count started to rise sharply as Djokovic stamped his authority on the match with a service break in the opening game of the second set. His groundstroke power pierced bigger holes in Tsonga's armoury and he opened up a 4-1 lead, with two remarkable returns that forced Tsonga to the net. He continued to attack Tsonga's backhand and sealed a two-sets-to-love lead with a hold to 40.
There was an air of resignation around Centre Court when Tsonga had his serve broken in the third game of the third set. But the charismatic Frenchman returned from the abyss at 3-4, when he converted his second of three break point opportunities with a return to his aggressive game. But his elation was short-lived. Djokovic regained his composure and out-rallied Tsonga at 5-5, to serve for a place in his fifth major final. Incredibly, Tsonga responded to thrash a forehand winner down the line at 15/40 to take the set to a tie-break.
Tsonga opened up a 5-3 lead, but dropped the next three points. He saved one match point opportunity with a smash, but hit a forehand long on his first set point chance at 7-6. Fearless, he aced Djokovic at 7-8 on the Serbian's second match point. Djokovic produced a drop shot winner at 8-9, before he hit a forehand long on Tsonga's third set point to conclude a 59-minute passage of absorbing drama.
"It was a little bit disappointing to lose that third set," said Djokovic. "But I tried to talk to myself on the changeover between sets and tried to focus and be calm and hold my emotions, not allow him to come back. And as soon as I made the break on the start, I regained that rhythm and momentum."
When Tsonga returned from an off-court break, his focus and energy looked to have disappeared. Djokovic swept into a 3-0 lead and despite experiencing a wobble at 0/30 in the fifth game, he maintained his concentration to stand one match win away from winning his third Grand Slam championship.
While Tsonga's smile, athleticism and crowd-pleasing dives - mimicking Boris Becker - may have won the hearts of the 15,000 capacity crowd, Djokovic's baseline brilliance and focused performance to comeback after losing the third set, proved to them why he is worthy of the World No. 1 ranking. His 41-0 start to the year ended at the hands of Federer in the Roland Garros semi-finals last month, but Djokovic produced his best performance of The Championships and on this form he will be difficult to stop in Sunday's final.
Tsonga had been looking to become just the second Frenchman in the Open Era to reach the Wimbledon final, following Cedric Pioline's runner-up effort in 1997 (l. to Sampras). The 2008 Australian Open finalist has made a strong recovery this season from the left knee injury he sustained in a quarter-final effort at Wimbledon last year. He has also reached the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament final (l. to Soderling) and the Qatar ExxonMobil Open semi-finals (l. to Federer) this year.