ovak Djokovic was infuriated by the late start to his fourth-round match against Tim van Rijthoven here on Sunday night, and took to center court to face Jannik Sinner in Tuesday’s first quarter-final, seemingly heavily invested in early arrival.
After just nine minutes he had smashed his young opponent and cemented that advantage, taking a three-game lead and already on his way to the semi-finals to defend his Wimbledon crown.
But five sets, and more than three and a half hours later, he left relieved to have that defense alive after being spooked by the 20-year-old Italian, who had been two sets clear. against the No. 1 seed in his first appearance at this stage of the Championships before losing 5-7 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-2.
He will face Britain’s Cam Norrie or Belgium’s David Goffin in the last four, with that pair’s quarter-final taking place simultaneously on Court No1.
That Sinner is a rare talent has been clear for some time. He won’t be 21 until next month but already has five ATP titles to his name, the youngest player to that mark since Djokovic himself achieved it at 19. Already this tournament, he had gone through a tricky opening round against the former French Open champion. Stan Wawrinka and abruptly ended John Isner’s run after the American knocked out Andy Murray. In the fourth round, on his center court debut, he also took care of fifth seed Carlos Alcaraz.
But it would have been the biggest triumph of his fledgling career, one that could have blown the draw. Of the top eight seeds, losses and forfeits mean that only Djokovic and Rafael Nadal remain, the only live contenders to have won a Grand Slam singles title before, the only ones, in fact, to have even played in the semi-finals. They remain on collision course for Sunday’s showpiece, but only narrowly.
There was some surprise at how Djokovic was so warmly received at SW19, given the vaccination controversy that effectively exiled him from two of the other three majors, as well as his direct criticism of Wimbledon on its banning of Russian and Belarusian players.
Against Sinner, he didn’t quite step back into the villain role, but the Center Court crowd made it clear early on where his notoriously unstable loyalties lay, enticed to get behind the underdog by the threatening slow start. briefly to see him blown away, then charmed by the way he had fought the fight against the six-time champion. When, after winning a thrilling point midway through the third set, Djokovic waved for more support, the response was instantaneous and positive, but was followed by a good number of pantomime boos from those sniffing around. were invested in surprise.
At that point, Djokovic needed a five-set comeback, having not gone the distance here since his nearly five-hour marathon against Roger Federer in 2019, one of his two five-set wins in Wimbledon final. Sinner, meanwhile, had won two matches in five sets during his short career.
“Don’t panic, Jannik,” shouted someone in the crowd as Djokovic collected three set points after hitting back in the third, but it couldn’t have been easy as the favorite finally hit his stride. The fourth set looked set to unfold in a blur, with Djokovic taking a double break to make a fifth inevitable, although Sinner composed himself to at least rebuild some momentum ahead of the decider.
He briefly looked like he could be cruelly denied the chance to go that far, slipping, falling and awkwardly twisting his ankle chasing a losing cause towards the net. Djokovic leapt directly over to put his rival on his feet to hearty cheers but showed none of that charity when play resumed, a broad smile on the 35-year-old’s face as he was himself pushed aside after stretching for the start. double-break which let him serve for the match. With Sinner’s resolve finally shattered, he had little trouble doing so.