Serial history-maker Novak Djokovic overcame a “hindrance” to reach his ninth Wimbledon final where he will face Carlos Alcaraz.
Am I playing the best tennis of my career? I'd like to believe that's the case. We are part of an individual sport so you have to rely on yourself and put yourself in the best physical and mental state before heading out on court Novak Djokovic
The reigning champion will equal Roger Federer and Bjorn Borg’s record of five successive appearances in the decider after dismissing Italian eighth seed Jannik Sinner 6-3 6-4 7-6 on Centre Court.
His final appearance would also be a record 35th in Slams, one ahead of Chris Evert.
And victory would put him level with Federer’s record of eight men’s All England titles if he emerges triumphant on Sunday.
But Djokovic believes a hindrance call in the second set could have cost him the opportunity of trying to do that and tie with Margaret Court on 24 at the top of the overall list of major wins.
Djokovic was deducted a point while trying to extend a 2-1 lead in it when umpire Richard Haigh made a hindrance call against the Serb for what the second seed described as “an extended grunt”. The British official deemed it put off Sinner who was preparing to return. Djokovic sunk to his haunches with a look of disbelief and asking Haigh: “What are you doing?”
Djokovic, who received a warning for a slow serve in the same game, said: “The hindrance early on in the match could have changed the course of the match. I felt nervous after that call, but I managed to re-group.
“It’s probably the first time it’s happened to me, I don’t normally have extended grunts. Maybe it was an echo in the roof! It was a call that I have to respect.”
Djokovic was able to smile as he proved himself more than a match for 21-year-old Sinner, part of the new breed of young players coming through led by Carlos Alcaraz.
The 36-year-old said: “It’s great to be part of this new generation! Love it! I feel 36 is the new 26. It feels pretty good. I feel a lot of motivation.
“Am I playing the best tennis of my career? I’d like to believe that’s the case. We are part of an individual sport so you have to rely on yourself and put yourself in the best physical and mental state before heading out on court.
“This sport has given me and my family a lot. I will return a favour to this sport and play as much as I can.”
Djokovic insisted the match was tighter than it appeared.
He said: “Semi-finals was always going to be very close and very intense. I think maybe the scoreline doesn’t give the reality of what happened on court. It was super close.
“He missed a few shots and allowed me to get into the tie-break. He has proven why he is one of the leaders in the next generation and one of the best players in the world.”
Djokovic was desperate not to sound “arrogant” when he tipped himself to defeat Sinner pre-match due to winning the whole tournament on the previous four occasions. No one was arguing and his opponent understood perfectly that he faced the toughest of tasks against the player who has won more major singles men’s titles than any other.
Any hopes Sinner might have had of repeating the start he made against the Serb in last year’s quarter final – in which he took the opening two sets before succumbing – were swiftly extinguished.
Djokovic took his only break point of the opening set in the second game of the match. And he moved to a 3-0 lead to leave Sinner playing catch up for rest of the set which the champion won after cracking down three successive aces.
The Serb’s serve has become the most improved part of his game in recent times, no doubt due to the influence of coach Goran Ivanisevic, who was renowned for his.
But the Djokovic serve came under pressure in the fourth game of it after he had broken Sinner for that 2-1 lead. One that provided controversy. When Djokovic lost that point for that hindrance.
The Italian managed to get his first break point in it but Djokovic’s defensive skills held Sinner at bay before the eighth seed dumped a forehand into the net. Djokovic then received that warning from Haigh for taking too long to serve.
But the seven-time title winner managed to regroup, maintaining his cool and focus on the surface – while probably seething with rage inside – to hold for a 3-1 lead.
Djokovic continued to dominate. His forehand down the line and accurate serving provided potent weapons against an increasingly frustrated Sinner, whose returning was far from poor.
The bad news for the Italian was that Djokovic seemed to be playing within himself, just doing enough to keep control as he cruised to a two-set lead,
Unlike Sinner in 2022, it was not expected the player unbeaten on Centre Court since Andy Murray overcame him in the final ten years ago would give it away.
Djokovic kept up the pressure and forced three break points for a 2-0 lead in the third set. His 21-year-old opponent kept the match alive by saving them all before sealing a hold.
Sinner kept his nose in front on serve, with his thunderous forehand working well behind it.
And there would have been a glimmer of light for the eighth seed had he challenged a point on the Djokovic serve at 4-3 to Sinner. It would have given the Italian a 0-30 advantage. Instead, the score kept to 15-15 and the Serbian went on to hold. A fine margin.
But he forced Djokovic to serve to save the set.
It was a strong effort from Sinner whose head could have gone down after the opening two sets. He had gritted his teeth and showed Djokovic he was still in the fight.
He earned two set points as Djokovic put a forehand volley wide with the crowd roaring their approval of the underdog’s chance to claw back a set.
Djokovic sarcastically used the ball to ‘clap’ against his racket in response to the fans’ support of his opponent in such a manner.
But he seemed to use the situation to his advantage by using the perceived slight against him as fuel to roar back for a hold. When the going gets tough the tough get going, it seems.
But Sinner still refused to fold and Djokovic needed to hold his next serve to keep in the set. He did as it went into a tiebreak.
It seemed as if the momentum the Italian had built up would help halve Djokovic’s lead as he gained a mini-break. But a double fault cancelled out his advantage when he netted a backhand. Djokovic held his next serve to secure two match points, taking the first.
On the hindrance call, three-time champion John McEnroe said: “Obviously the umpire wanted his name in the papers.”