WIMBLEDON, England — Novak Djokovic reached his first Wimbledon final and claimed the No. 1 ranking by defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (9), 6-3 Friday in a match filled with diving shots by both players on the grass of Centre Court.
Djokovic, a two-time Australian Open champion, improved his record to 47-1 this year. And although he won another Friday, it was Tsonga who entertained the crowd with his tennis skills and showmanship.
In the final, Djokovic will face either defending champion Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray.
Djokovic will replace Nadal as the top-ranked player on Monday, but reaching the final at the All England Club was a relief after losing twice at the same stage.
After Tsonga's return on match point sailed out, Djokovic dropped to the ground and lay on his back. A few seconds later, he knelt down and kissed the grass.
"It's hard to express your emotions in a very short time but hopefully some more celebrations are about to come," said Djokovic, who also beat Tsonga in the 2008 Australian Open final.
Djokovic started the season by winning 41 straight matches, but he lost to Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals. Since then, he is 6-0, with all those victories coming at the All England Club.
"I've been working all my life for this," Djokovic said. "I've been dreaming about playing the finals of Wimbledon since I started playing tennis when I was 4. To be able to be there on Sunday will probably be the best feeling."
However, Tsonga, didn't make this one easy. The 12th-seeded Frenchman went to the turf several times to knock balls back over the net, some landing in and some going long.
Twice in the third set, both players landed on the grass during the same point.
At 1-1 with Tsonga serving, the Frenchman dived to send the ball back toward Djokovic. The Serb then dived to hit a backhand across the net while Tsonga scrambled to his feet just in time to dive again and push a forehand long.
In the seventh game, Djokovic dived to hit a forehand, but Tsonga did the same, sending a forehand winner back over the net.
There were more theatrics in the first set.
With Tsonga up a break and serving while leading 3-2, the two players volleyed the ball back and forth until Tsonga dived and hit winner.
As Djokovic clapped his hand on his racket to acknowledge the acrobatic play and the crowd applauded, Tsonga turned to the Royal Box — which included former Wimbledon champions Bjorn Borg and Goran Ivanisevic — and stretched out his arms to roaring cheers.
Tsonga again relied on his big serve and booming forehands, and they worked early in the match. He broke Djokovic in the opening game of the opening set to take the lead, but the turning point came when Tsonga was serving for the first set while leading 5-4.
Djokovic won the first three points, and Tsonga saved all three break chances. But at deuce, Tsonga double-faulted to give Djokovic another chance, and this time he converted when the Frenchman sent a forehand wide.
In the second set, Djokovic controlled play and took advantage of Tsonga's increasing unforced errors. The Serb broke in the first and fifth games to take a 5-1 lead, and held at love in the final game.
But leading by two sets against Tsonga does not mean the match is over. On Wednesday, six-time Wimbledon champion Federer won the opening two against Tsonga but lost in five, and Djokovic found it just as tough.
While serving for the match at 6-5, Tsonga broke to force another tiebreaker, and then saved a pair of match points.
But Djokovic didn't let the setback get to him. He held at love in the opening game of the final set, and then broke Tsonga at love to take a 2-0 lead and hanging on the rest of the way.