Age is clearly just a number to Novak Djokovic, who is now just one match away from securing a record-equaling eighth Wimbledon title after the Serb beat Italy’s Jannik Sinner in straight sets, winning 6-3 6-4 7-6 in Friday’s first men’s semifinal.
Victory ensured the 36-year-old reached a record-breaking 35th grand slam final – in doing so surpassing Chris Evert’s landmark – and will now face Carlos Alcaraz in Sunday’s final.
Djokovic will be the overwhelming favorite to win a record-extending 24th grand slam title against Alcaraz, not least because he’s already won the Australian Open and the French Open in 2023.
The Serb has lost one just one Wimbledon final he’s reached – that was 10 years ago when he was beaten by Andy Murray.
‘I love it’
Ever the showman, Djokovic got into a back-and-forth with a fan, who had celebrated after he missed a first serve at break point down toward the end of a tense third set. After eventually holding serve, Djokovic turned to the fan and mimicked wiping away tears from his eyes.
Sinner, who was appearing in the last four of a grand slam for the first time in his career, left everything out of the court but was no match for Djokovic’s relentless brilliance.
The 21-year-old, widely regarded as one of tennis’ brightest young talents, will no doubt once again grace this stage of a grand slam in the not so distant future, but for now it’s the sport’s elder statesman that continues to reign supreme in SW19.
“Semifinals, it was always going to be a very close and tense match, as was the case,” said Djokovic said magnanimously in his on-court interview. “Three very close sets, I think the score line maybe doesn’t give the reality of what was happening on the court, it was super close.
“That third set could have gone his way, he had 15-40 on 5-4 … he missed a couple of shots to let me get into the tie-break. There was a lot of pressure in the third, I had my chances early on but he has proven why he is one of the leaders of the next generation and one of the best players we have in the world.
“It’s great to be part of this new generation, I love it,” Djokovic joked.
Rare hindrance call
The early signs were promising for Sinner, who earned a break point in Djokovic’s opening service game, though he was unable to convert. However, things quickly began to unravel as Sinner’s serve was broken in his opening service game as Djokovic took control of the first set.
In total, Sinner had three break points to Djokovic’s one in the first set but was unable to capitalize on any of them, while is opponent ruthlessly converted the one chance that presented itself to him.
The second set followed much the same pattern, as Sinner was again broken early on and a dejected look crept across his face after a game of quite careless tennis.
There was a bizarre moment in the second set when umpire Richard Haigh called Djokovic for a hindrance, awarding the point to Sinner, after the Serb let out a belated grunt when hitting a backhand.
“The hindrance [call] earlier on today in the match could have changed the course of the match,” Djokovic said.
“I felt really nervous after that call from the chair umpire, but managed to regroup and it was probably the first time in my career that something like this has happened.
“Normally I don’t have extended grunts, maybe it was an echo from the roof or something. “I didn’t feel I was causing any hindrance, but it was the call and I had to respect it.”
Subsequently, Haigh called Djokovic for a time violation on his serve. Though unquestionably a correct decision this time, it only served to add to the frustration of both Djokovic and the crowd.
Unperturbed by the umpire’s decisions, Djokovic held serve before eventually taking a commanding two-set lead.
Sinner deserves plenty of credit for continuing to battle deep into the third set, pumping his fist toward his box with every booming winner, including one that registered 100 miles per hour on the speed gun.
In fact, the youngster was now playing his best tennis of the encounter and his reward was the chance to take the third set in a tie-break.
There was to be no denying Djokovic, however, who turned up the heat once again to clinch the tie-break and the match.
Even at the ripe, old age of 36 – in tennis terms, at least – Djokovic says he might just be playing some of the best tennis of his career.
“I’d like to believe that’s the case,” he said. “I mean, we are part of an individual sport so you have to rely on yourself and put yourself in the best possible, physical, mental and emotional state before going out on the court.
“So I tried not to look at the age as a hindrance that might change the outcome on the court. I feel 36 is the new 26, it feels good.
“I feel a lot of motivation and I’m inspired to play the tennis that I truly love, this sport has given me so much and I’m eternally grateful so I’ll try to … I guess return the favor to this sport and play as much as I possibly can.”
In the other semifinal, Alcaraz reached his first Wimbledon final with a dominant victory over Daniil Medvedev, winning in straight sets 6-3 6-3 6-3.
Alcaraz raced into a two-set lead behind some big hitting and deft drop shots and although Medvedev showed grit and determination in the final set to show his class, the world No. 1 reached his final at the famous tournament with a now-familiar pinpoint forehand.