Racquet Reaction

Wimbledon: Djokovic d. Dimitrov

Friday, July 04, 2014 /by
Photo by Anita Aguilar
Photo by Anita Aguilar

A frenetic semifinal was in full flight when Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov went airborne for flying volleys—and crashed to the court in a double knockdown.

Withstanding heavy blows and sudden slips, Djokovic tasted grass and teetered on the edge of a fifth set, but never lost his appetite for the fight. The resilient top seed fought off four set points in the fourth set to subdue Dimitrov, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7), and reach his 14th career Grand Slam final.

Windy spikes and worn-out patches of grass near the baseline created tricky conditions and funky bounces, as both men battled nerves while alternately soaring and slipping around the Centre Court. Tension tormented Dimitrov in a jittery fifth game. He committed four consecutive unforced errors to donate the break and a 3-2 lead. Untouchable on serve at the outset, Djokovic followed a three-ace game with a firm hold.

Balance off both forehand and backhand is a strength that enables Djokovic to play the court straight-up. He came out attacking Dimitrov's stronger forehand side and serving with authority—making 20 of 24 first serves, hit five aces, and surrendered just four points on serve—in a near immaculate 27-minute first set.

Though the 11th seed delivered three love holds in his first five service games, he was tugging at his shirt sleeves, frustrated by his inability to impose his forehand. Dimitrov had held serve in 77 of 80 games in his five tournament wins, but the world's most dangerous returner broke twice in the Bulgarian's first seven service games for a set and 2-1 lead. When a wild backhand missed the mark, Dimitrov was one point from a 1-4 hole.

But the Bulgarian banged an ace down to erase break point, and that shot loosened him. Djokovic, who played with complete conviction for a set and a half, was hitting more tentatively, waiting for his opponent to lose the point. Dimitrov broke when Djokovic netted a backhand, and used a bold drop shot to break again for 5-3. On set point, Djokovic wrongly challenged a ball that landed on the line, and Dimitrov had his fifth straight game—and the second set, as girlfriend Maria Sharapova pumped her fist in encouragement from the box.

Rifling a forehand pass down the line, Dimitrov earned the only break point of the third set. Fighting off a fierce return, the Serb squeezed a backhand winner over the net and down the line, fending off the threat and eventually holding for 4-3.

Regaining his rhythm on serve, Djokovic hit with more depth, while Dimitrov wilted in the tiebreaker. A tight Dimitrov double faulted, then netted a backhand slice, giving the world No. 2 four set points. He needed just one, drilling a service winner to end the 52-minute third set.

Suffering a horrific third game, Dimitrov scattered three straight double faults followed by a skittish forehand error, donating a break at love. Shrugging it off, Dimitrov broke back for 2-all, then unloaded some of his heaviest serves of the match, slamming a 133 M.P.H ace for 3-2.

The 2011 champion denied three break points in the next game. Digging deep, Djokovic saved a set point by banging a serve into Dimitrov's hip to navigate a tough hold for 5-all. Electrifying court coverage created pulsating rallies, as both men hit tremendous shots stretched on the run and tried transitioning forward to press the opponent.

An aggressive Dimitrov raced out to a 4-2 lead in the tiebreaker, knifing a slick backhand volley down the line to earn three more set points at 6-3. But Djokovic didn't blink—he attacked the moment and the net. A volley winner, down-the-line forehand, and backhand-volley winner erased the crisis.

Dimitrov saved the first match point he faced, but a Djokovic down-the-line forehand caused him to slide into a split, eliciting a groan from the crowd sensing his moment slip away. Djokovic finished the match with a forehand pass that clipped off the top of the tape and nestled in the corner, ending an entertaining match that wasn't always extraordinary quality, but produced moments of exceptional theater.

The six-time Grand Slam champion will face either seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer or Canadian Milos Raonic in Sunday's final.

For complete Wimbledon coverage, including updated draws and reports from Steve Tignor, head to our tournament page.

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