WIMBLEDON, England — Having ensured his first trip to a Wimbledon final and first turn at No. 1 in the rankings with a thrill-a-minute victory, Novak Djokovic dropped to his back at the baseline, limbs spread wide, chest heaving.
Moments later, he knelt and kissed the Centre Court grass, while his entourage bounced giddily in unison, huddling in a tight circle up in Djokovic’s guest box.
Clearly, it meant so much to all of them that Djokovic beat 12th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (9), 6-3 Friday in an entertaining and engaging semifinal filled with diving volleys and showmanship. What would mean even more: If Djokovic, who is 47-1 in 2011, can beat defending champion Rafael Nadal for the title Sunday at the All England Club.
As a kid in war-torn Serbia, Djokovic recalled, “I was always trying to visualize myself on Sunday, the last Sunday of Wimbledon. Being in the Wimbledon final — it’s ‘the thing’ for me.”
Top-seeded Nadal extended his winning streak at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament to 20 matches by ending the latest so-close-yet-so-far bid by a British man at Wimbledon, eliminating No. 4 Andy Murray 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. It’s the third consecutive year Murray has lost in the semifinals.
The last British man to win Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936, and the last to even reach the final was Bunny Austin in 1938; since then, the host country’s men are a combined 0-11 in semifinals.
“I feel sad for Andy,” said Nadal, who showed no signs of being hampered by the aching left heel that he’s numbing with painkilling injections as he seeks a third Wimbledon championship and 11th Grand Slam trophy overall.
No matter Sunday’s result, the Spaniard will be overtaken in the ATP rankings Monday by two-time Australian Open champion Djokovic, who’ll rise from No. 2.
“Both of them are incredibly consistent with their success and so dominant the last couple years. They don’t give you a lot of chances to become No. 1,” said the 24-year-old Djokovic, beaten in last year’s U.S. Open final by Nadal. “So I guess you need to lose only one match in seven months to get there. If you can do that, then well done.”
Yes, Djokovic deserves to hear a “Well done!” or two for his surge, which he says stems in part from the confidence and pride he gained while leading Serbia to its first Davis Cup title in December. His two wins against France during the final series at Belgrade started a 43-match streak that ended with a semifinal loss to Federer at the French Open a month ago.
“His total game is really complete,” said Nadal, who is 16-11 against Djokovic, including 5-0 at Grand Slam tournaments. “Good serve, very good movements. … His eyes are very fast, and he can go inside the court very easy playing very difficult shots.”
That sounds like a pretty accurate scouting report for Nadal, too. He, though, was merely very good at the outset against Murray, who was downright excellent while winning the first set with high-risk, high-reward shotmaking and nearly perfect serving.
Yet their semifinal changed complexion completely early in the second set, with Murray ahead 2-1, and Nadal serving at 15-30. On his heels, Nadal sent back a floater that should have set up an easy winner, but Murray flubbed a forehand, pushing it long. Instead of a break point for Murray, it was 30-all, and the Scot missed forehands on the next two points, too, starting a seven-game run for Nadal.