Wimbledon 2013: Djokovic, Murray set up 1 vs. 2 final

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“When you feel good physically, when you know you’re fit and you don’t feel a huge fatigue, that gives you mental confidence, obviously,” Djokovic said.

Sliding on the grass-turned-dirt behind the baseline, doing the occasional splits and, at one point, diving for a shot, then laying on the ground, face-down in despair, Djokovic put on a stellar show, filled with 80 winners but also lots of counterpunching, always making his 6-foot-6 opponent hit one more shot.

Despite the pressure of the match, both players took it for what it was: sports entertainment at its finest. Del Potro played to the crowd and also exchanged a few fun back-and-forths with his opponent. In the sixth game of the fourth set, the Argentine chased down a drop volley and flicked a forehand down the line. His momentum carried him to the other side of the court and the shot was called out.

Should he challenge?

“He asked me, What’s going on?’ I said, ‘Listen, if I was you, I would challenge,’” Djokovic recounted. “He said, ‘No, but you know it’s out and don’t waste my challenge.’ I said, ‘OK, you decide whatever you want. But truly, I’m not lying to you.’”

All this was done with smiles on their faces. Del Potro opted against the challenge but won the fourth set anyway, putting his 4-6 lifetime record in five-setters against Djokovic’s mark of 18-7.

Djokovic’s fitness played a big role in landing him the decisive break in the fifth set.

It came with del Potro serving behind 4-3. With the score 15-all, Djokovic hit a drop shot-lob combo to close out a breathtaking 22-shot rally. Del Potro dropped his hands onto his knees and clearly hadn’t regained his wind on the next point, when he sliced an easy backhand into the net. Two points later, Djokovic had the break, and the 5-3 lead.

He saved a break point in the final game by hitting an off-balance drop shot winner off a del Potro serve return that clipped the net cord. Two points later, Djokovic had his 53rd career win on grass — 24 more than del Potro.

“You can see I played my best tennis ever on grass court,” del Potro said, “but was not enough to beat the No. 1 in the world. I was so close.”

It was quite a taxing stay at Wimbledon for del Potro, who came into the semifinal with his left knee heavily taped, a victim of two nasty slips that sent him tumbling earlier in the tournament. The second fall came two days earlier, on the fifth point of his quarterfinal against David Ferrer. Del Potro said the trainer gave him a couple of “magic pills” — anti-inflammatories — and that kept him going in his straight-sets win over the No. 4 seed.

Against Djokovic, del Potro showed few signs of an aftereffect.

Tested throughout by a variety of Djokovic drop shots, del Potro got to most. More than once, the Argentine did his impression of a lanky golden retriever — chasing the tennis ball from wide of the court on the forehand side to wide of the court on the backhand side. After going wide in the third set to hit one of his 48 winners, del Potro stood on the ledge separating the court from the stands, waiting for a high-5 from one of the fans at courtside.

The fans soaked in the del Potro experience, cheering on the underdog as he pushed the world’s best player to the limit.

“They help me a lot for fight, to keep trying, keep going,” del Potro said. “Of course I’m sad now, but in a couple of days, I will see how big the match was.”

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