By Ros Satar, at Wimbledon

  • Novak Djokovic [12] def. Kei Nishikori [24] 6-3 3-6 6-2 6-2
  • Rafael Nadal [2] def. Juan Martin Del Potro [5] 7-5 6-7(7) 4-6 6-4 6-4
  • Will face Rafael Nadal for the 52nd time in their careers
WIMBLEDON, UK – Novak Djokovic made the most of his time on Centre Court, defeating Kei Nishikori in four sets to set up a clash with Rafael Nadal.

 

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Novak Djokovic [12] def. Kei Nishikori [24] 6-3 3-6 6-2 6-2

It looked as though Novak Djokovic, a three-time champion here, had at last returned to his ancestral home after some scarcely credible scheduling decisions both last year, and again this year. He has been improving match on match and was the first to strike with a break, but Kei Nishikori has been playing inspired tennis this tournament.

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He broke straight back to get things back on an even keel but relinquished his serve handing Djokovic his opportunity to serve out for the first set. In the second set though it was Nishikori’s chance to take advantage of a slight dip in Djokovic’s level as he quickly built up a 4-1 lead. He would hold on to his break to level up the match.

Things looked a lot more decisive in the hands of the three-time Wimbledon champion, with two breaks in the third set to take a 2-1 lead. Nishikori put in a last-ditch flurry of resistance to break Djokovic at the start of the fourth set. Djokovic responded by breaking him twice in succession, putting the boot in with a break for the match.

He said, after the match: “I mean, obviously it’s different coming into semi-finals this year, taking in consideration 15 months behind, what everything that has happened, my results that were not up to the standard that I was doing before, that I was expected to play on.

“In the same time, I’m trying to use the experience and memories that I had on being in final stages of Grand Slams, just take things very simple, day by day. Obviously at the end of this day, analyse things that I’ve done right, that maybe need some improvement, focus on the next day’s practice session, recovery. Not get ahead of myself too much. Whatever is behind is behind. I’ve been through that.”

It will be a staggering 52nd encounter between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and the rivalry is in Djokovic’s favour – 26-25. The Serbian will have to bring his best tennis to beat Nadal who was pushed to five sets by Juan Martin Del Potro.

Djokovic continued: “I feel if I have to compare the game that I’ve played, the level of tennis that I’ve had those years and today, I think it’s pretty close. Again, it’s kind of hard to copy anything, right? I don’t like that. I usually like to recreate something. I know, as everything in life, we are evolving. I’m a different person, different player today.

I like the level of tennis that I’m playing on right now. I really do. I think with the performances I’ve had, I deserve to be in the semi-finals. I don’t want to stop here. I hope I can get a chance to fight for a trophy.”

Rafael Nadal [2] def. Juan Martin Del Potro [5] 7-5 6-7(7) 4-6 6-4 6-4

Rafael Nadal in the third round of Wimbledon 2018

Rafael Nadal in the third round of Wimbledon 2018 | (Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

It is fair to say that the two-time Wimbledon champion Nadal had not been tested until his quarter-final, and indeed a Roland Garros rematch with Del Potro came around. There, on the prized terre battue, he made his semi-final with the Tower of Tandil look ordinary, and a rematch for the Spaniard, who had hardly been tested this tournament looked ominous.

It was a competitive first set with just a single break at the end of the set to send Nadal on his way, and when Del Potro found himself on the losing end of a second set tie-break, it seemed that our logical conclusions would be borne out.

But grass is a surface that can regard Del Potro’s game and in a highly competitive third set, the Argentine took the one and only break point in the game to get himself back in the match. As fatigue was beginning to settle in, and with some athleticism better seen amongst the youngsters like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Del Potro could be seen throwing himself about the place, often prone as he wrestled a second set off Nadal.

The level of tennis in the final set was sublime, and this was one of the real times where you wish there did not have to be a winner. This time the final shot of the match left Del Potro prone, looking for all the world like a stricken oak.

 

Djokovic v Nadal #52

Thank heavens for the Centre Court roof, as this will be a long one. The pair will love nothing better than to trade off from the baseline, and both are in impressive form.

For Djokovic, Roland Garros just seemed a little too soon a Slam for him to look at returning to his best and despite his bad-tempered protestations that he was not sure if he would even play on grass, his run to the final of Queen’s has set him up well for his run here.

Each match has looked more solid, and that hunger is back – some may balk at seeing him get agitated with his team and argue the toss with umpires, but it shows that he has that passion back. Maybe the struggle has been good for him – and that his previous successes had made him a little more settled and complacent. Either way, a feisty Djokovic is likely to be an almighty headache for Nadal.

Del Potro was a huge test for him and having not really played until the start of the clay court season, Nadal probably finds himself a little fresher than the rest, but he needs to expect to go five round with Djokovic, and none of us had better expect an early finish.

In truth this has the feel of a de facto final – and for many fans it will be.

Prediction: Djokovic in five sets.

The Gentlemen’s Singles semi-finals will take place on Friday.

 

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