Novak Djokovic recovered from two sets down to beat Jannik Sinner and reach the Wimbledon semi-finals for a 12th time.
A set away from his first defeat at SW19 since 2017, the six-time champion dug deep to keep his title defence alive.
In his 11th five-setter at Wimbledon, Djokovic took his record to 10-1 when going the distance at these Championships, while it was the third time he has overcome a two-set deficit.
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Next for Djokovic is a semi-final against either David Goffin or Cameron Norrie.
“Huge congratulations for a big fight from Jannik. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for him on the big stage. He’s got plenty of time and I wish him the best of luck for the rest of the year,” Djokovic said.
“He was the better player for two sets, but I went out and had a refreshment, a pep talk in the mirror – it’s actually true! Sometimes when not much is happening positively, and the other guy is dominating, these things are necessary. A little break to recuperate and regather the thoughts.
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“I was fortunate to start the third set very well. That gave me confidence and I saw a little bit of doubt in his game and movement. I guess experience helped me deal with the pressure.”
No 10 Sinner was fancied to give Djokovic a close-run match, but those prospects looked slim when the latter raced to a 4-1 lead in the opening set.
However, Sinner rose to the occasion and outlined why he is among the best of this next generation coming through, winning six of the next seven games to steal the set 7-5.
A shell-shocked Djokovic soon found himself a break down and trailing 3-1 in the second set, with Sinner clinically converting another opportunity – without offering any break-back points – to take a 2-0 lead.
But as it typical with players as experienced as Djokovic, the top seed roared back, improving his first-serve percentage and clocking 11 winners to just three unforced errors when taking the third set 6-3.
That was a marked improved on the 12-12 and 5-7 winners to unforced errors in the opening two sets, and it was a sign that the tide had turned, with errors flying off the Sinner as the fourth set headed in Djokovic’s direction.
Indeed, Djokovic quickly went 4-0 up, and though Sinner got on the board, the Serbian found himself serving for the set at 5-2.
Djokovic faced a break point, but he saved it when Sinner appeared to roll his ankle. Gasps from the Centre Court crowd were followed by applause as Djokovic helped his opponent up, and the focus from there was on how badly Sinner was hurt.
The pain looked to be short-lived, particularly with a stunning backhand winner saving set point, but he was unable to prevent Djokovic from holding to level the match and bring up his first five-setter at Wimbledon since beating Roger Federer in the 2019 final.
Djokovic in fact had a 35-10 record in five-set matches, and was looking to make it seven straight wins when going the distance, having last lost in five sets to Dominic Thiem in the 2019 French Open.
Sinner, meanwhile, headed off for a comfort break, and it looked to be no more than that – not requiring medical treatment – and a huge cheer greeted his opening hold.
However, the resolve would not last, with Djokovic breaking in the third game and again in the seventh – after a sliding winner and Superman pose for the cameras while lying down on the ground – before serving it out and reaching the semis.
“I’ve been blessed to play professional tennis for 20 years, but nevertheless I go through the same doubts – the inner fight is always the biggest one,” Djokovic added.
“Once you beat that, circumstances are more likely to go in your favour, I always believed I could turn it around. Maybe the experience, maybe the toilet break, maybe everything combined, I’m just glad I’m through.”
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Watch daily highlights from Wimbledon at 10pm on Eurosport 2 and discovery+ from June 27, as well as the two singles finals live on July 9 and 10.
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