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Novak Djokovic hoping to get a grip against Dimitrov

Novak Djokovic serves on No.1 Court
by Dan Imhoff
Thursday 3 July 2014

He pulled a golf club out of his bag on Centre Court as a prank two years ago, so Novak Djokovic striding onto the hallowed turf in a pair of golf spikes would not be totally out of the question on Friday.

This time it would have more practical reasoning though. The Serb slipped and stumbled, before queueing a shoe change, on his way past Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals.

“I thought I was slipping, I was falling, and I wasn't really finding the balance in the third [set against Cilic]. I don't know if it was shoes or socks or whatever. It was very warm. I was sweating a lot, so I want to change it. I had just a better grip. I had better movement. Maybe it was just mental, but anyway, it worked,” Djokovic after turning the match around to book his place in the semi-finals for the 16th time in his past 17 majors.

The head groundsman might have a vastly different take on this novel golf-spikes attempt at gaining traction, but if anyone was going to see the funny side to it, it would be his opponent on Friday, Grigor Dimitrov.

Bank on the jokes being left in the locker room, though, when these two stand toe to toe with a Grand Slam final on the line.

His bogeymen in four of his past five Grand Slam finals – Rafael Nadal and defending champion Andy Murray – were removed from the equation before he had to worry about them.

Not that he was admitting to losing sleep over them in the first place. “To be honest, if they lost, they lost to players who were better than them. To me, it doesn't matter. I just look at my own matches,” Djokovic said.

The Serb has won three of his four meetings with Murray’s slayer Dimitrov, but they have never met on grass. And despite six Grand Slam titles to his name and his fifth straight semi-final at SW19, the top seed is making a grab for the underdog tag. His opponent has won the most matches on turf this year and Djokovic insists Dimitrov is “the man to beat”.

“To beat Andy on grass is a very, very difficult challenge. The fact that he hasn't lost a match in the grasscourt season this year says enough about his quality. I'm sure many people look at him as a potential Grand Slam winner – maybe here, maybe in the Grand Slams to follow,” Djokovic said. “His game has improved a lot. Working with Roger Rasheed as well, I'm sure that helps. He's getting more experience now playing on the big stage, which definitely is useful when you play in the big tournaments like this.”

Djokovic has spent the most time on court of the four semi-finalists but is desperate to stem a worrying trend of Grand Slam finals losses – he has lost five of his past seven.

It has not been an easy road. Veteran Radek Stepanek seriously tested him in a high-quality second round assignment and on paper, French former top-tenners Gilles Simon and No.14 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could have been early road blocks. Neither would win a set.

Easily the Serb’s toughest task came against No.26 seed Cilic in the quarter-finals; the 2011 champion having to fight back from two-sets-to-one down for his 10th straight triumph over his Croatian friend.

The expectant dad will have a new perspective on life after the impending birth of his first-born with fiancé Jelena later in the year.

“It can only bring positive things to us ... We're together almost nine years, and this is the crown of our relationship,” he said.

The birth of his first child would be Djokovic’s crowning moment for 2014. A second Wimbledon title may pale in significance, but would surely end up as his crowning on-court achievement for the season.

It will be a big year if he finds his feet.

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