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5 Jul, 2022 16:15

Djokovic mounts stirring comeback to keep Wimbledon hopes alive

The defending champion battled back to defeat Italian youngster Jannik Sinner
Djokovic mounts stirring comeback to keep Wimbledon hopes alive

Novak Djokovic’s pursuit of a fourth successive Wimbledon title is still alive after he fought back superbly from two sets down to see off the challenge of young Italian Jannik Sinner.

Djokovic hauled himself back from the brink on Centre Court to win 5-7 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-2, after looking unusually sloppy for much of the first stages of the match.

Ultimately, the grit and determination upon which the Serb has called so many times down the years came to the fore again as he outlasted Sinner in a match spanning just over three-and-a-half hours.

Top seed Djokovic had praised the up-and-coming Sinner ahead of their clash, saying he saw some of his own qualities in the 20-year-old Italian who continues to mature among the game’s elite.

Appearing in a first Wimbledon quarterfinal, Sinner did not make an auspicious start when Djokovic broke his serve at the first time of asking as the Serb seemed to set out his stall early.

But after Djokovic opened up a 4-1 lead, Sinner was far from overawed, battling back to break the defending champion twice on the way to taking the first set 7-5.

An uncharacteristically sloppy performance from Djokovic continued in the second set as he suffered double breaks of serve against the young number 10 seed, who continued to dominate the key exchanges.

Djokovic, however, has long allied his talent with a brilliant knack of dragging himself off the ropes even when far from his best.   

So that proved as the pendulum swung his way in set three, with Djokovic securing a crucial break to love in game four before taking the set 6-3.

The momentum was firmly back in the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s favor as he wrestled control of set four with consecutive breaks of serve, although Sinner showed belated resistance in making Djokovic fight hard in a lengthy game to conclude the set.

There was also sportsmanship on display amid an intense Centre Court battle as Djokovic crossed the net to come to Sinner’s aid at one stage after the Italian had slipped when chasing down a drop-volley.

Sinner dusted himself down for the decider, holding serve to start the fifth set, but Djokovic ratcheted up the pressure in game three, setting up two break points – one of which Sinner saved before succumbing to what felt like the decisive blow.

Djokovic did not look back as he broke the Sinner serve again, before a service game to love sealed the set and the match – which was a 26th consecutive victory at the All England Club for the world number three. 

Remarkably, Djokovic has won 10 of the 11 five-set matches he has contested at the grass court Grand Slam down the years. 

“Happiness, love, fulfilment, pride, [I feel] everything on this court,” Djokovic said on court when asked about his winning streak.

“I love it. I think the majority of the players would agree this is the biggest tennis tournament in the history of our game, so this court is the most important one, definitely in my career and my life.”

Aiming for a seventh Wimbledon crown in total and fourth on the spin, Djokovic next meets the winner of the match between Belgium’s David Goffin and UK ninth seed Cameron Norrie, who contested their quarterfinal on Court 1 on Tuesday.

Djokovic, 35, will be heavily fancied to reach another final at Wimbledon, while the other half of the draw at SW19 boasts generational rival Rafael Nadal, who is in pursuit of a third Grand Slam title of the year and record-extending 23rd in total. 

Seeded second, the Spaniard takes on American number 11 seed Taylor Fritz in their quarterfinal on Wednesday as Nadal targets what would be a third Wimbledon crown in total but a first since 2010. 

In the same half of the draw, Australian firebrand Nick Kyrgios continues to show why he has the talent to trouble anyone on his day, and plays fellow unseeded rival Cristian Garin of Chile in their quarterfinal on Court 1, also on Wednesday.