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Novak Djokovic tops Rafael Nadal in another Wimbledon marathon semifinal

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Is Novak Djokovic back? Certainly looked like it Friday night and Saturday afternoon at Wimbledon.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion outlasted top-ranked Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8 to reach Sunday’s final at the All England Club, where the Serb plays South African Kevin Anderson.

“It’s hard to pick the words,” said Djokovic, the 12th seed who reached his first Grand Slam final since the 2016 U.S. Open. “I mean, I’m just going through things that flash back the last 15 months and everything I’ve been through to get here, to get to the final and to win against the best player in the world. … I’m just overwhelmed.

“These kind of matches you live for, you work for.”

Djokovic and Nadal, two men with a combined 29 Grand Slam singles titles, played the first three sets Friday — after Anderson and John Isner‘s 6-hour, 36-minute epic — before Wimbledon’s 11 p.m. curfew suspended the match overnight.

The Centre Court roof remained closed for Saturday’s resumption because at least one of the players (Djokovic, presumably) preferred it.

They were on court for 5 hours, 14 minutes total, which would have been the longest Wimbledon semifinal in history before Friday.

“Very special,” said Djokovic, who improved to 27-25 against Nadal in the most prolific men’s rivalry in the 50-year Open Era. “It really could have gone either way, I think. … It was very clear that very few things separated the two players. Basically, until the last shot I didn’t know that I was going to win.”

Djokovic made his first Grand Slam final since the end of a two-year stretch where the Serb was the world’s top player. He once held all four Grand Slam titles, something neither Roger Federer nor Nadal has done.

Djokovic’s struggles the last two years accompanied off-court life changes.

He cited “private issues” in summer 2016, split from coach Boris Becker that fall, was coached by Andre Agassi for less than a year, missed the 2017 U.S. Open for an elbow injury, then underwent surgery to fix it in January.

He has won two tournaments in the last two years and none in the last 12 months, his longest drought since his first of 68 ATP titles at age 19 in 2006.

But on Friday and Saturday, Djokovic packaged mental strength, physical endurance, shot-making talent and big-stage guts like we haven’t seen in two years.

Now Djokovic, the lowest-ranked man in a Wimbledon final since Mark Philippoussis in 2003, is favored against the eighth seed Anderson to win his fourth Wimbledon. Djokovic has won their last five matches, including at Wimbledon in 2015.

Anderson, the oldest first-time Wimbledon finalist in the 50-year Open Era, eyes his first Grand Slam title after playing a combined 10 hours, 50 minutes between the quarterfinals (upsetting Roger Federer 13-11 in the fifth) and semifinals.

“Hopefully we can first of all play, both of us,” Djokovic said in exhaustion. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride for him in the last couple of rounds, but he had a day off, which means a lot. I wish I could have one. … It’s an incredible achievement for me after what I’ve been through. I’m trying to digest that.”

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Roger Federer upset in Wimbledon marathon

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Roger Federer had the opportunities. None bigger than match point in the third set. Two hours later, Federer had squandered a two-set lead, shocked in a Wimbledon quarterfinals marathon by No. 8 seed Kevin Anderson.

“I had my chances and blew them,” said Federer, who lost a Wimbledon match in which he had a match point for the first time. “It was just one of those days where you hope to get by somehow. I almost could have. So it’s disappointing.”

Federer lost from two sets up for just the fifth time in his career — and third at a Grand Slam — falling 6-2, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 4-6, 13-11 to the 6-foot-8 South African on Wednesday. It’s Federer’s earliest exit from Wimbledon since 2013.

“Not quite sure what to say right now,” Anderson, 32 and a former University of Illinois standout. “Beating Roger Federer here at Wimbledon will be one that I remember, especially in such a close match. I just kept on telling myself, ‘I have to keep believing.’ I kept saying that today was going to be my day, because you really need that mindset taking the court against somebody like Roger. If you go out there with doubts or unsure what’s going to happen, like I maybe did a little bit in that first set, it’s not going to go your way.”

Anderson plays 33-year-old, 6-foot-10-inch American John Isner in Friday’s semifinals. Isner ousted 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3 to make his first Grand Slam semifinal in his 41st try.

“Pure elation right now,” said Isner, who has called Wimbledon his “house of horrors” since beating Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in that 2010 ultra marathon, never getting past the third round until now.

The other semifinal pits Rafael Nadal against Novak Djokovic, who own a combined five Wimbledon titles. Nadal, the No. 2 seed, outlasted No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a 4-hour, 48-minute epic (same time as his 2008 Wimbledon epic win over Federer). Djokovic got past No. 24 Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.

The top seed Federer, an eight-time Wimbledon champion, appeared to have his match all but won after two hours. He had a match point on Anderson’s serve in the third set.

But the 2017 U.S. Open finalist rose to the occasion, then snapped Federer’s record-tying streak of 34 straight Wimbledon sets won.

“At that point, I wasn’t thinking about losing,” Federer said. “I’m up two sets to one, it’s all good.”

But Anderson had found his game, going unbroken on serve through the last three sets en route to his first Wimbledon semifinal.

Anderson, after losing all of his previous eight sets against Federer, dispatched the 20-time Grand Slam champion in 4 hours, 14 minutes. It’s Anderson’s biggest win outside of reaching his one and only Grand Slam final in New York last year.

“After that [first set] I never really felt exactly 100 percent,” Federer said. “One of those average days you have to try and win the match, and I couldn’t get it done today.”

It marked Federer’s second-longest Grand Slam match by games after his 16-14, fifth-set win over Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final.

This loss was all the more shocking given Federer’s resurgence since the start of 2017, rising from No. 17 in the world (his lowest rank since 2001) to become the oldest No. 1 in history at age 36 while winning three Grand Slam titles (his first since 2012).

Before Wednesday, Federer’s last dropped set at the All England Club came in his 2016 semifinal loss to Canadian Milos Raonic, who later Wednesday lost a four-set quarterfinal to American John Isner 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3.

Next up for Anderson is the 6-foot-10 Isner, into his first Grand Slam semifinal in his 41st try. For Federer, he said it could take “a while” to get over this defeat or “half an hour.”

“Maybe the losses hurt more [at Wimbledon],” he said. “I don’t want to sit here and explain my loss. That’s the worst feeling you can have as a tennis player.”

He may also dwell on this fact: If Nadal wins Wimbledon, he will be within two Grand Slam titles of Federer’s record (20 to 18) for the first time since 2004, when Federer had two and Nadal had none. And Nadal is nearly five years younger than Federer.

As if Federer needed any more motivation to reclaim his Wimbledon crown next year.

“I wouldn’t call it unfinished business,” he said. “I feel like I did some good business in the past here already. So I’m all right. Just disappointed.”

Wimbledon continues Thursday with the women’s semifinals: Serena Williams vs. German Julia Görges and two-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber vs. 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

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Wimbledon first round sees record number of top-10 upsets

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Seven top-10 singles seeds lost in Wimbledon’s first round, a record number of Grand Slam opening-round upsets in the Open Era.

No. 6 Caroline Garcia and No. 8 Petra Kvitova and No. 7 Dominic Thiem and No. 10 David Goffin all went out Tuesday after No. 4 Sloane Stephens and No. 5 Elina Svitolina and No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov were ousted Monday.

The previous record for top-10 upsets in the first round was six, last happening at the 1998 French Open.

Meanwhile, major champions Rafael NadalNovak Djokovic, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza all swept through the first round.

The biggest stunner Tuesday had to be Kvitova, picked by many to win her third Wimbledon.

The Czech was stunned by 50th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

Kvitova was coming off a grass-court title at Birmingham, England, last month and entered Tuesday with a tour-leading 38 victories this season.

Sasnovich came in with a 2-3 career record at Wimbledon, including a first-round loss a year ago, and a 9-13 Grand Slam mark.

Nadal, twice a Wimbledon champion, moved into the second round with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Dudi Sela of Israel.

The second-seeded Nadal hadn’t played a match since claiming his 11th French Open title last month, but showed little sign of rust as he cruised to victory.

Nadal is seeking a first Wimbledon title since 2010, which would also make him just the second man to do the French Open-Wimbledon double three times.

He will next face Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.

Djokovic equaled John McEnroe’s number of matches won at Wimbledon by beating American Tennys Sandgren 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 for his 59th match victory at the All England Club.

That puts him level with McEnroe in fifth place on the all-time list, behind only Roger Federer, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras. Djokovic is looking for his fourth Wimbledon title, while Sandgren — who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals — was making his debut in the tournament.

Top-ranked Halep eased into the second round with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Kurumi Nara of Japan.

The French Open champion was playing her first match since winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros but showed no signs of rust as she broke Nara four times to wrap up the win in 78 minutes.

“It was a big challenge to come and win the first round — it’s not easy after winning a Grand Slam, I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Halep said. “I felt OK. I didn’t think too much that I didn’t have any matches on grass (before Wimbledon). I thought I had enough power to adjust myself. Grass is really tough and every match can go either way. I have no expectations.”

Halep made the semifinals at the All England Club in 2014 but lost in the quarterfinals the past two years.

Defending champion Muguruza advanced with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over British wild card Naomi Broady.

The No. 3-seeded Spaniard overcame a partisan crowd as she fulfilled the reigning women’s champion’s honor of opening proceedings on Centre Court.

Muguruza faced only one break point in the match, but her failure to convert the regular chances she created on Broady’s delivery made for a competitive second set.

However, the two-time Grand Slam champion maintained her focus to close out the match and set up a second-round meeting with Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium.

American Jack Sock, seeded 18th, continued his poor year by losing to Italian Matteo Berrettini in five sets.

Another American, former junior star Frances Tiafoe, notched his first win over a seeded player at a Grand Slam, ousting No. 30 Fernando Verdasco in four sets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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