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Novak Djokovic reaches final after five-set epic

Novak Djokovic serves.
by Darren Saligari
Friday 5 July 2013

A wounded opponent can be a dangerous proposition. That was the scenario that faced Novak Djokovic today as he sought to reach his second Wimbledon final. Standing in his way was Argentina's finest, Juan Martin Del Potro. The burly Argentine has fought gallantly this week, carrying on regardless of a banged up knee that he first damaged in his fourth-round match, then re-injured in his stunning quarter-final victory over fourth seed David Ferrer.

In arguably the match of the tournament – apologies to Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco – Djokovic won 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(8), 6-3 in an epic four hours and 43 minutes, making it the longest men's Wimbledon semi-final of all time.

"It was one of the best matches that I've been a part of," said Djokovic. "One of the most exciting. It was so close, really. [I] couldn't separate us. Every time he's in a tough situation he comes up with a great shot."

Del Potro's courage and gentle giant appeal have won him many admirers - great for the Argentine, but not exactly what Djokovic was hoping for on semi-finals day. Djokovic, meanwhile, has spent the past 12 days quietly going about his business. The top seed has exuded a quiet determination in his quest for his second Wimbledon title.

After the disappointment of falling in the Roland Garros semi-finals to eventual winner Rafael Nadal, Djokovic set his sights firmly on The Championships. After all, there's no better tonic for loss than victory.

In his five preceding matches, Djokovic has not dropped a set. Tucked safely on the opposite side of the draw he was able to avoid the bloodbath that was Black Wednesday. Tellingly he has maintained his focus despite the distractions and media hyperbole surrounding the upsets and injuries that have come to define this 127th edition of The Championships.

Like Djokovic, Del Potro also entered this semi-final without having dropped a set. Something had to give. Right from the first game it was clear, however, that neither player was prepared to give anything. Djokovic went to work on Del Potro's sore knee early, pinning him deep on his forehand side before changing direction, forcing the eighth seed to chase.

But chase he did. Despite Djokovic's best efforts, Del Potro even managed to turn the tables sending the Serb to all corners of the court in search of a winner. Worryingly for Djokovic his normally ever-reliable backhand was mis-firing, which would be a trend throughout the match, particularly when the top seed attempted to fire down the line.

An early break point went begging in the sixth game for the top seed as Del Potro wavered on serve. The Argentinean held but his safety was short lived. With a tiebreak in sight Djokovic sneaked under Del Potro's guard to break and take the opening set 7-5.

In the second set both players attempted to unsettle the other by mixing things up. The semifinalists alternated between flat and heavily spun balls as they did everything possible to unsettle each other's rhythm.

Rallies would end with a player - invariably Del Potro - literally in the stands. At one point the Argentinean high fived a spectator in the front row as he stood panting in front of him.

A set up and seemingly with the momentum, Djokovic missed numerous chances to break mid-way through the second set, allowing Del Potro to stay in the match.

The Argentinean incited the crowd after defying his injured knee to chase down balls that looked for all money to be winners. An unexpected break in the seventh game for Del Potro served as a stark reminder to Djokovic to take opportunities when presented.

Djokovic restored his favourite status by eventually taking the third set in a tiebreak set that could have gone either way.

From here it was assumed by most that Djokovic would close out the match in four sets. But Del Potro had other ideas. The eighth seed just didn't know when to give up.

Capable of hitting blistering winners from any part of the court, Del Potro was a constant threat to Djokovic's title hopes. In the 12th game of the fourth set Del Potro proved that there was plenty left in the tank, hitting a 120 mph forehand winner after more than three hours and 40 minutes of play.

The pair traded breaks midway through the set as Djokovic once again failed to capitalise on a golden opportunity. But worse was to come. Leading 6-4 in the fourth-set tie-break and with two match points, Djokovic blinked and Del Potro reeled off four straight points to claim the fourth set and send the match, fittingly, into a deciding set.

Djokovic would later lament that he should have been "more aggressive" on those missed match points. Early in the final set it was clear that the quarter-final and semi-final had taken their toll on Del Potro. He received treatment from the trainer early in the fifth set and looked to be moving slower than earlier in the match.

It was all Djokovic needed. The top seed found a slither of an opening in the eighth game and when Del Potro dragged a forehand wide, Djokovic was in the box seat. The Serb duly served out the match, making no mistake when presented with his third match point.

Djokovic now joins tennis legends John McEnroe, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg, who was in the crowd, in making it to 11 Grand Slam finals.

For Djokovic he now has a mountain of recovery work to do before turning his attention to Sunday's final and the possibility of playing either local hope Andy Murray or the heavy-hitting Jerzy Janowicz.

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