“Good luck, you’ll need it”, seems to be the general message to Jannik Sinner. The eighth-seeded Italian faces reigning champion Novak Djokovic for a place in the Wimbledon men’s singles final on Centre Court on Friday.
Last year I played a very good match against him. It's going to be a completely different match. JannikSinner
To do so would avenge a quarter-final reverse at the tournament last year against the Serbian chasing an eighth title which would equal the record feat of the recently retired Roger Federer.
Easier said than done is an understatement. Djokovic is the most successful male player of all-time with 23 majors to his name, He is also rated favourite – despite the seedings putting him second behind world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz – to draw level with Margaret Court in the overall list on 24.
The Serb going for a fifth successive crown has not lost in 44 matches in London SW19. And not lost on Centre Court for ten years.
Sinner, 21, has no illusions about the size of the task.
He said: “It’s for sure one of the toughest, if not the toughest, challenge. It’s a Grand Slam. It is a very, very important round, semi-finals. He has won 23 Grand Slams. Won Australia, won Paris. He is in a huge confidence boost also.
“It’s going to be tough, but I will obviously try my best, no? Last year I played a very good match against him. It’s going to be a completely different match. He knows me better as I know him better also. It’s going to be also a little bit tactical. In the other way, it is also a little bit mental, no?
“I have learned about last year. Hopefully I can show this also on the court. I’m going to stick with my game plan and hopefully can execute it in the best possible way. I’m happy. I will fight for every ball. I will enjoy the moment but knowing that I can go hard trying to beat him. I’ve tried to work on couple of things what I might use. Let’s see how it goes.”
Sinner, 21, has beefed up his mental strength as well as his in-born technical ability, physical conditioning and tactical strategies since losing that last-eight encounter from two sets up against Djokovic.
Sinner said: “For sure physically I have improved. I’m much stronger. I can stay on court for many hours without suffering. Also mentally you’re going in (with) a slightly different mental side on court knowing you are also a top-ten player. I think also game-wise or tennis-wise I feel better. If I have to play the slice, I can play now without thinking. Before was always a little bit different. I can go to the net knowing that I have good volleys. I have some good things now in my game, and hopefully I can use it in the right way.”
And he believes his coaching team of Darren Cahill, who has guided the likes of All England champions Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Simona Halep, and Simone Vagnozzi, will aid his cause.
He said: “The combination with Darren and Simone is very good. For sure Darren knows a little bit better how to behave in certain moments like this (an All England semi-final), something new for me. He knows how to deal with it because he had obviously other players who were much better than me. It is good to have him. He gives me a lot of confidence.
“He is also a very nice, nice person, who you can smile, you can joke around. But he always finds the right words, let’s say like this. Especially before the matches, he knows what to say, which makes me feel good, comfortable.”
Djokovic who, at 36 in playing the best tennis of his life according to three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, is not under-estimating his task as he equals Roger Federer’s Slam record of 46 semi-finals.
The Serb said: “Jannik playing on a very high level. He likes to play on grass, on quick surfaces, because he likes to be aggressive and take control of the point. From both forehand and backhand, he’s smashing the ball really, really hard, trying to be the one that is going to dictate the point from early on. I know his game well. He’s so young, so of course it’s expected that he’s going to improve. He is improving, no doubt, I think with the serve. He’s been serving better. On grass, that obviously makes a difference.
“He’s a very complete player. Now first time in semis of Wimbledon. I’m looking forward to that challenge. I’m sure that he’s going to be very, very motivated to win. On the other hand, I am, too.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but of course I would consider myself favourite. Judging with the results I had in my career here, previous four occasions of Wimbledon that I won.”