Djokovic Back In Business, Reaches Eighth Wimbledon Semi-final
Serbian star awaits the winner of Nadal or Del Potro
Three-time former champion Novak Djokovic moved into his eighth semi-final at The Championships on Wednesday with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Kei Nishikori, the No. 24 seed from Japan, in two hours and 35 minutes.
The Serbian, who retired in the 2017 Wimbledon quarter-finals with a right elbow injury against Tomas Berdych that resulted in a six-month injury lay-off, is returning to peak form at just the right time. Djokovic lost just eight of his first-service points (52/61) and won 18 of his 20 points at the net against Nishikori. “I think we were quite even until the middle of the third set, then I managed to step up and play up a gear,” said Djokovic. “I ended this match really well.”
He will next face second-seeded Spaniard and two-time titlist Rafael Nadal, who defeated fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro, the 2013 semi-finalist, from Argentina. Djokovic leads Nadal 26-25 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
“I feel [that] if I have to compare the game that I've played, the level of tennis that I've had those years and today, I think it's pretty close,” said Djokovic. “I like the level of tennis that I'm playing right now. I really do. I think with the performances I've had, I deserve to be in the semi-finals. I don't want to stop here. I hope I can get a chance to fight for a trophy.”
Through to his 32nd Grand Slam championship semi-final — second only to Roger Federer (44) — Djokovic also recorded his 63rd match win (63-10) at the All England Club, the same number as 1993-95, 1997-2000 Wimbledon winner Pete Sampras (63-7).
Djokovic came into the grass-court major on the back of a runner-up finish at the Fever-Tree Championships — his first ATP World Tour final for 12 months. He has a 23-9 record on the season, which includes two other victories over Nishikori at the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events.
Djokovic highlighted his growing confidence and tremendous athleticism from the front and back of the Centre Court, in the fourth game at 15/30, when a forehand down the line left Nishikori lunging for the ball. Two points later, Nishikori mis-timed a deep backhand, which clipped the baseline, to give Djokovic a 3-1 advantage. But the Serbian struck a double fault in the next game to hand the break back to Nishikori.
Nishikori, who set up his favoured backhand stroke down the line with serves out wide, particularly on the Ad-court, got back to 3-3, but subtle changes of groundstroke pace by Djokovic reaped dividends in the eighth game. The 38-minute set ended with Nishikori committing a backhand error.
Nishikori came through a 10-minute first game in the second set, then began to change his approach by coming to the net against one of the sport’s greatest returners. He earned a confidence boost by recovering from 0/40 at 1-1, much to the frustration of Djokovic, who received a code violation for racquet abuse.
Having battled to two service holds in 17 minutes, Nishikori was gifted a 3-1 lead, courtesy of his Serbian opponent attempting to hit a sliced drop shot into the net. Djokovic tightened up his game, putting Nishikori under pressure, but could not make the breakthrough.
Djokovic proved to be adept at the net and quick on approach in the third set, when he highlighted his mental capabilities and flexibility in recovering from 0/40 at 2-2. The 31-year-old capitalised on early fatigue from Nishikori, letting out a roar when he broke the Japanese for 30 for a 4-2 advantage and won eight of the next nine points to dominate.
“I think that was the biggest chance I had,” said Nishikori, when asked about the fifth game of the third set. “But he played three great points. Maybe things change if I got the game. I mean, he was also playing great tennis. I know it's not going to be easy holding my serve, even after I break him, but after that he was playing better. I think he was playing more aggressive and didn't give me any free points.”
Nishikori bounced back by breaking in the first game of the fourth set, but it only heightened Djokovic’s motivation and soon the Serbian couldn’t miss, forcing Nishikori to strike one extra ball in their baseline rallies. From 0-1, a fired up Djokovic won 16 of the next 20 points with exceptional hitting. Djokovic struck his 39th winner - a forehand - on approach to the net for victory.