It was starting to look like trouble for Novak Djokovic when Jannik Sinner dominated the early part of the match, all set to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final. But the No. 1 seed recovered just in time from two sets down and took the victory for himself.
Six-time champion Djokovic had to dig in deep as he was just a set away from his first defeat at SW19 since 2017, which he was able to do to keep his title defense chances alive and reach the Wimbledon semi-finals for a 12th time.
Djokovic took his record to 10-1. It was his 11th five-setter at Wimbledon and the third time he has overcome a two-set deficit.
Now a semi-final against either David Goffin or Cameron Norrie awaits Djokovic.
“He was the better player for two sets, but I went out and had a refreshment, a pep talk in the mirror – it’s actually true! Sometimes when not much is happening positively, and the other guy is dominating, these things are necessary. A little break to recuperate and regather the thoughts,” Djokovic said.
“I was fortunate to start the third set very well. That gave me confidence and I saw a little bit of doubt in his game and movement. I guess experience helped me deal with the pressure.”
It was looking to be a close-run match between the No 10 Sinner and Djokovic, but that didn’t prove to be the case when Djokovic raced to a 4-1 lead in the opening set.
But Sinner rose to the challenge, winning six of the next seven games to steal the set 7-5 – outlining why he is among the best of this next generation coming through.
This left Djokovic shell-shocked and he soon found himself a break down and trailing 3-1 in the second set. Sinner took a 2-0 lead after clinically converting another opportunity – without offering any break-back points.
But as expected with players as experienced as Djokovic, the No 1 seed was able to turn things around. He improved his first-serve percentage and clocked 11 winners to just three unforced errors when he took the third set 6-3.
It was a sign that the tide had turned – a marked improved on the 12-12 and 5-7 winners to unforced errors in the opening two sets. The fourth set headed in Djokovic’s direction as errors flew off from Sinner.
Djokovic swiftly went 4-0 up and found himself serving for the set at 5-2. He faced a breakpoint, but he saved it when Sinner looked like he rolled his ankle.
The Centre Court crowd gasped and then applauded when Djokovic helped his Sinner up. From there on, focus was on how badly the Italian was hurt. It proved to be a short-lived pain for Sinner and he even gave a stunning backhand winner saving set point. But it wasn’t enough to stop Djokovic from holding to level the match.
Djokovic, who had a 35-10 record in five-set matches, was looking to make it seven straight wins, having last lost in five sets to Dominic Thiem in the 2019 French Open.
Sinner didn’t require medical treatment and just headed off for a comfort break.
Djokovic would break in the third game and again in the seventh. He gave a sliding winner and Superman pose for the cameras while lying down on the ground before serving it out to advance towards the semis.
“I’ve been blessed to play professional tennis for 20 years, but nevertheless I go through the same doubts – the inner fight is always the biggest one,” Djokovic said.
“Once you beat that, circumstances are more likely to go in your favor, I always believed I could turn it around. Maybe the experience, maybe the toilet break, maybe everything combined, I’m just glad I’m through.”