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Novak Djokovic doesn't just make two-set comebacks look routine—he makes them look spectacular
In his latest rally Tuesday, the six-time Wimbledon winner "played a new match" to surpass Jannik Sinner, 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
Published Jul 05, 2022
HIGHLIGHTS: Djokovic surges to deny Sinner in five
Can a player make coming back from two sets down start to seem…routine?
It’s starting to feel that way with Novak Djokovic. If you had taken a poll of tennis fans and experts after he fell behind two sets to love to Jannik Sinner at Wimbledon on Tuesday, I would guess that more than half of them would still have picked Djokovic to win.
It’s not as if Djokovic stages these kinds of comebacks every day. Over a 17-year-old career, he had done it six times coming into his meeting with Sinner. That’s a good record, but like everyone else in the history of tennis, when he loses the first two sets, he usually loses the match.
But this wasn’t just any match, or any event, or any arena for Djokovic.
This was a match against a 20-year-old opponent who was playing his first Wimbledon quarterfinal; Djokovic, by contrast, was playing his 13th.
This was, and still is, a tournament that Djokovic wants to win as much as any he’s ever played. His entire season seems to depend on it.
And this was Centre Court. The last time he lost there was to Andy Murray (in three straight sets, incidentally) in the 2013 final.
“I was being dominated by Sinner,” Djokovic admitted. But he also knows as well as anyone how simple it can be to turn a tennis match around.
“I always believed that I could come back,” Djokovic said. “I know that, you know, the experience that I have could eventually prevail in these kind of situations. I didn’t have any physical injuries or anything like that. It was just a matter of momentum shift.”
Djokovic began to make that shift in a familiar place: The bathroom mirror. That’s where, after the second set, he gave himself “a little pep talk.”
“I’ve done that after I lost two sets in finals of Roland Garros against Tsitsipas,” he said, “and today it worked. It doesn’t always work. It’s not a guarantee it will always work.”
Djokovic said that while the man-in-the-mirror chat may look and sound “fake,” it can “kind of reanimate yourself in a way.”
Djokovic was right to believe that it wouldn’t take much to create an entirely new atmosphere in the stadium. Once a player with his record and history appears to be on track, a win can quickly begin to seem inevitable to the fans, and more important, to the guy on the other side of the net.
It took exactly two points for this match to shift. The first came with Sinner serving at 1-2 in the third. Down 0-15, he had a look at a wide open forehand, the kind he had been smashing past Djokovic for two sets. This time he hesitated, and the ball caught the tape and fell back to make the score 0-30. Djokovic broke at love.
The second key moment came a game later with Djokovic serving at 30-30. Here was a half chance for Sinner to break back and regain the momentum. He began the rally by getting Djokovic on the run. Except that this is where, even at 35, Djokovic loves to be. He won the point with some brilliant defense, and, for the first time all afternoon, lifted his hands to ask for a little love from the crowd. From that point on, Djokovic won 15 games, Sinner just six.
“I kind of played a new match, to be honest,” Djokovic said. “From the start of the third, I played three really very solid, very high-quality tennis sets. From the very beginning of the third when I broke his serve early I felt, you know, that I found my rhythm and tempo on the shots.”
“I saw a bit of doubt in his game,” Djokovic added about Sinner
Djokovic won the way he has always won, by locking down, giving nothing away and putting constant pressure on with his serves, returns, ground strokes, and defense. By the end, he had almost caught up to Sinner in the winner count, 43 to 41, and he was 28 of 39 at net.
But it wasn’t all lockdown mode. With Sinner serving at 2-4 in the fifth, Djokovic sprinted across the baseline to his left and snapped a backhand pass at a seemingly impossible crosscourt angle, all while crashing to the court. On his belly, Djokovic spread his arms out like an airplane’s. Or maybe Superman’s.
Djokovic isn’t just making these two-set comebacks look routine. He’s making them look spectacular.