If anyone wanted to know what makes Novak Djokovic such a great champion then one point in his semi-final summed it up perfectly. One set all with Roberto Bautista Agut, Djokovic broke to lead 4-2 in the third set but found himself 15-40 down, two chances for the Spaniard to get back on serve. The first came and went quickly but on the second, Djokovic went into brick wall mode, moving side to side with the effortlessness of a ballet dancer, refusing to miss. Backhand to backhand they went until finally, when Djokovic had manoeuvred his man wide on the court, he unleashed a stunning backhand down the line to win it on the 45th stroke of the rally.
Djokovic put his finger to his ear, the applause ringing around Centre Court in recognition of his resilience, fitness, stamina and mental strength. Sometimes one point can make all the difference and that epic rally was it. Not too long later, Djokovic was back in the locker-room, a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 winner and into the Wimbledon final for the sixth time in his career.
Four times the champion here, including 12 months ago, victory on Sunday would lift him alongside Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer as the only men to win the title five times or more in the Open era. It is his 25th grand slam final and he is one win away from a 16th grand slam title, nudging him ever closer to Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (18) on the all-time list.
“Winning that game was crucial for me, gave me more confidence and relief and I could swing more freely,” Djokovic said. “I had to dig deep. I got a bit tight and it was a very important probably first four or five games of the third set. That was where the match could have gone both ways, but thankfully it went my way.”
At 31, Bautista Agut was appearing in his first grand slam semi-final, an effort that had forced him to cancel his planned stag-do in Ibiza. Though many of his friends had made the journey to watch him play, after Djokovic took the first set with almost flawless tennis, he must have wondered why he had bothered.
But the Spaniard had beaten Djokovic in their two most recent battles earlier this year, coming from a set down to win both and as the second set began, he found his rhythm. From 0-1 down, he won 12 of the next 14 points, breaking Djokovic on his way to a 3-1 lead. A short delay when a spectator was taken ill in the stands did not affect his concentration and with his flat forehand beginning to do some damage, he held the advantage all the way through to level the match.
In the third set, the standard went up an extra couple of levels as both men served well and tested each other out with the power and depth of their groundstrokes. Games stayed on serve until the sixth game, when Djokovic broke for 4-2. It was then that Bautista Agut had his chance, but a missed forehand and then the epic rally turned the game in Djokovic’s favour.
“I had 15-40 in that game,” Bautista Agut said. “I played really, really deep return. I played good cross-court with my backhand. I had easy forehand. I went too much for it. Then the next point I didn’t want to take risk on the point to play long, to play a good rally. It was maybe one of the best points of the match.”
That knocked the belief out of Bautista Agut and in the fourth set Djokovic broke for 2-1, again for 4-1 and though the Spaniard saved four match points, the world No 1 finished things off to book his place in a sixth Wimbledon final.
Bautista Agut said he might head to Ibiza as soon as Sunday to pick up his stag-do but said his run to a first grand slam semi-final had given him a taste for more. “Every experience I had in my tennis career made me a better player, made me the next time do the things better,” he said. “I think everything makes me a better player. A lot of experience today in the match. A lot of new situations. A lot of new emotions. I am happy for the way I played, happy with the result I have here in Wimbledon.”
Having missed out on a fourth straight grand slam win when he lost in the semi-finals at the French Open last month, Djokovic is determined not to let another chance slip. “I’m going to go out there and give it all. Finals of Wimbledon, this is the kind of match I always dreamed of being part of. I’m going to give everything I have.”
Source: Africa News