WATCH: Djokovic's semifinal press conference

One word best describes Novak Djokovic’s 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Cameron Norrie in Friday’s Wimbledon semifinal: sustainability.

Sustainability might well be Djokovic’s biggest superpower. As he has proven over the course of winning 20 Grand Slam singles titles, Djokovic has an unsurpassed ability to absorb an opponent’s best shots and, soon enough, put them in a position to unravel. “Good match today,” said Djokovic. “Didn't start off well as I did in most of my matches here in Wimbledon. Didn't feel so good at the beginning. A lot of mistakes. Just didn't find my rhythm. Nerves were kicking in for both of us.”

Norrie’s start was scintillating. In the first game of the match, Norrie broke Djokovic at 30 with a dazzling cat-and-mouse display, a rally capped off with a deft backhand volley winner. And though Djokovic soon leveled the set at 2-all, little could derail the underdog. At 2-all, 30-40, a curling slice backhand from Norrie extracted a rarity, Djokovic flagging a crosscourt backhand long. Norrie’s good fortune continued. With Djokovic serving at 2-4, 15-all, Norrie shanked a return that coaxed yet another Djokovic miscue, this one a forehand struck well outside the court. On the next point, Norrie quickly read a drop shot and raced in quickly to roll a forehand down-the-line winner. Serving for the set at 5-2, Norrie hit two aces to finish the opener in 32 minutes. Said Norrie, “I was winning all the rallies and winning all the longer points. It was a solid set.”

What Norrie had done to begin the match summoned up words written by the late Gordon Forbes in the elegant book, A Handful of Summers, about another match that took place on Centre Court. This one was the 1977 Wimbledon final. As was the case today, an aggressive left-hander took on the holder and thoroughly dominated the first set. In that instance, the southpaw was Jimmy Connors, up against the exceptionally airtight Bjorn Borg. And though Connors, twice a Wimbledon champion, was far more accomplished than Norrie, Forbes’ description was equally fitting today:

“He’s playing too perfectly altogether – like a complicated machine that has been finely programmed to hit hundreds of risky winners, and then been overwound. Watching him, one senses overkill. Feels instinctively that his best shots would be worth more than only one point. ‘He can’t keep doing that,’ one mutters. And of course, he can’t.”

As you’d expect, Connors pushed Borg to the limit, only losing that match, 6-4 in the fifth set. But as you also might have anticipated, Norrie was hardly able to sustain his level of play.


Djokovic is aiming to clinch a four-peat at the grass-court major.

Djokovic is aiming to clinch a four-peat at the grass-court major.

For Djokovic, the task appeared routine. As was the case in Djokovic’s comeback from two sets to love down versus Jannik Sinner in the quarters, this was once again a tale of two matches. Quite quickly in the second set, Norrie’s shots began to fly, the errors starting to accumulate. Tenaciously as he fought to reach 3-all, even at this early stage, Norrie appeared pushed to the very limit. While Sinner had run out of ideas—new ways to disrupt Djokovic—Norrie’s technical skills began to erode. “Just a little bit of execution, maybe lack of focus in that moment, then he raised his game,” said Norrie. “I think he served unbelievably well after that. It was tough for me to get into his service games.”

And Djokovic? Having weathered Norrie’s flurry, he just kept humming, even in the face of a partisan crowd. “Look, it's never pleasant to have the whole stadium cheering for your opponent,” said Djokovic. “Of course, it's something that I expected coming into the match. It was logical for that to happen because he's hometown hero, they wanted him to win. I knew what kind of environment I'm going into. But I felt like I was maintaining my focus pretty well considering. I sat down, wasn't playing well, feeling well, but somehow I managed to turn the match around. Yeah, I mean, you could see today on the court that he dropped the focus a little bit a few times, and that's where I stepped in and really started to control the pace of the match, exchanges from the baseline.”

Propelled by his magnificent footwork and balance, attuned to Norrie’s now-exposed limitations, Djokovic began to feel increasingly comfortable, striking the ball proficiently to all corners. After committing 12 unforced errors in the first set, Djokovic made only nine over the next two, snapping the match open with little drama. In the third and fourth sets, Djokovic immediately broke Norrie’s serve and never faced a break point. “I think when you serve well,” said Djokovic, “it's a big relief in these kind of circumstances, these kind of matches. It helps a lot playing on grass.” At 5-4, 40-30 in the fourth, Djokovic struck a sharp service winner down to the T to end the match on his first match point.


It was not easy to close out the match for me. Even though I was a break up in the fourth, I felt like I was constantly being chased by him from early in the set when I made that break. I felt a lot of pressure to serve it out. —Novak Djokovic

Set now to play Nick Kyrgios, Djokovic is encountering a rarity: A man who’s never lost to him. Kyrgios’ 2-0 mark versus Djokovic took place in the same month, a two-week period in 2017 that saw Kyrgios earn straight-set wins in Acapulco and Indian Wells. I was sitting courtside for the Indian Wells match and was repeatedly dazzled by how Kyrgios dominated one rally after another. The Australian that afternoon in the desert displayed a full array, most of all with his serve and forehand. Said Djokovic following that match, “There is not many players like him on the tour, and, you know, he plays a certain way, and talks and behaves a certain way, which is characteristic for him.” Of course, those aware of Djokovic’s career arc know that 2017 was one of the most down periods of his career, a tough time Djokovic didn’t snap out of until he won Wimbledon in 2018.

At a press conference Kyrgios conducted today, the Australian expressed both enthusiasm for the chance to play Djokovic, as well as insight into the changing nature of their relationship. “We definitely have a bit of a bromance now, which is weird,” said Kyrgios. “I think everyone knows there was no love lost for a while there. I think it was healthy for the sport. I think every time we played each other, there was hype around it. It was interesting for the media, the people watching, all that. I felt like I was almost the only kind of player and someone to stand up for him with all that kind of drama at Australian Open.”

Said Djokovic, “I don't know if I can call it a bromance yet, but we definitely have a better relationship than what it was probably prior to January this year. But when it was really tough for me in Australia, he was one of the very few players that came out publicly and supported me and stood by me. That's something I truly appreciate. So I respect him for that a lot.”

For Kyrgios, reaching a Grand Slam singles final is an unprecedented first. For Djokovic, it’s yet another chance to add more pages to his epic career, including the chance to earn a seventh Wimbledon singles title, a feat that would tie him for second-most in the Open era alongside his childhood tennis idol, Pete Sampras. “But the experience that I have at this level, playing in the finals against someone that has never played a Grand Slam final, could be slightly in my favor,” said Djokovic. “But at the same time, knowing who he is and how he goes about his tennis and his attitude on the court, he doesn't seem to be falling under pressure much. He plays lights-out every time he steps out onto the court. Just a lot of power in his serve and his game. So I'm sure he's going to go for it. No doubt he's going to be aggressive. I expect him to do that. I'm going to make sure I get ready for that one and let the better player win.”