It may not have been a traditional grass-court match, but DelPo and Djokovic played a 4h48 minute thriller in their SF, in front of a crowd that included grass-court legend Stefan Edberg. In the longest SF in Wimbledon history, Djokovic defeated DelPo in 5 sets, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-3.
Although it feels strange (and a bit pathetically self-serving) to say this after a DelPo loss, this match is undoubtedly one of the best semifinals I’ve seen at Wimbledon. It’s up there on the list for match of the year. The competitive atmosphere, the quality shot-making and the drama-within-a-drama kept the crowds involved for close to 5 hours.
It was a high-quality match, from start to finish. Interestingly enough, both players found themselves struggling with one powerful weapon: DelPo’s first serves, which were at 74% in his QF win over Ferru, were a lowly 51% in the 1st set. In the SF, DelPo only had 4 aces to Novak’s 22. Novak’s trademark shot, the BHDTL, was misfiring as well.
Nevertheless, the level was high, with DelPo throwing the kitchen sink at Djokovic, which gave Djokovic the chance to show off his incredible “Gumby-like” defense. Oftentimes, a point would end if Djokovic splayed out on the grass, having run from side to side. In terms of offense, DelPo made great use of his own BHDTL to win points. This was clearly a tactical decision from DelPo, who is often reluctant to use the DTL shot.
However, DelPo was facing more pressure on his serve, as he DF-ed and struggled to hold. At 3-all in the 1st set, Novak seemed to be the player more at ease with his game. In a mark of how competitive this match was, DelPo stepped it up and played against the odds. He hit a murderous CC FH, the first of many he would hit in this match. Fans may be tired by now of hearing about DelPo’s flat FHs, but the ones he hit in this match were jaw-dropping. It’s amazing to see the speed and angle he’s able to achieve on that shot, given his languid swing and his lanky frame. However, he had early troubles with his other trademark shot, the running FH. He overhit several of those in the 1st set. DelPo faced scoreboard pressure at 5*-6 in the 1st set (DelPo had won the toss and chosen to receive first). From 0-30 down, Novak cruelly brought out his BHDTL to get to 15-30. A BH drop shot followed. DelPo missed a BH slice (this was a costly error) and Novak would eventually take advantage of BP to take the first set, 7-5. This was the first set DelPo had lost at Wimbledon, and the first time in four matches his serve was broken.
At 2*-3 in the 2nd set, Novak had 3 BPs on DelPo’s serve, after a FH sailed long. DelPo would save the two BPs with a diving volley and an ace. He would save a 4th BP with strong serves. Incidentally, DelPo’s first serves in the 2nd set was 73%. Spurred by that save, DelPo gained 3 BPs on Novak’s next service game, after some tremendous scrambling and 2 FH winners. He broke Novak at love to take a 4*-3 lead in the 2nd set and would consolidate with another BHDTL and an ace. DelPo would take the 2nd set, 6-4.
From DelPo’s perspective, his performance in the 3rd set TB will probably linger on his mind. He’d faced continued pressure on his serve all throughout the 3rd set, having saved 3 SPs at 5*-6 and missed several BP chances on Novak’s serve at 3-all (after which he chastised the ball at the net). There were some remarkable points in the 3rd set and it seemed fitting that it would go to a TB. At 2-3 in the TB, DelPo netted a straightforward overhead, after missing a chance to put away the first overhead. That point plays like a nightmare in my mind. From that point on, Novak easily took the TB, 7-6(2). DelPo walked back to his chair in shame, visibly disappointed with the last few points of the TB. That DelPo had kept it so competitive in spite of serving at 59% in the 3rd set probably contributed to the disappointment:
Given the level of tennis and the drama, the 3rd set seemed a viable contender for one of the best sets of tennis played at this year’s Wimbledon. Yet the 4th set would prove to top that one. DelPo held his first service game after going down 0-30. Even if he was disappointed after the 3rd set, he was still here to play. Somewhat surprisingly, he even had time to indulge in a cute moment with Novak after debating a Hawk-Eye challenge. Hawk-Eye proved to be a third actor on Center Court, as DelPo would not challenge a ball that was called out, which was confirmed by TV to be in. He would have had a great chance to take the 4th set much earlier, if not for that call. As it was, Novak held for 5-5. That errant call did leave an opening for DelPo to showcase some of his finest forehands, as one registered at 114 mph and another registered at 121 mph. Insanely ridiculous.
In the 4th set TB, Novak would gain 2 MPs. DelPo showed his heart was still very much in the match, when he came up with two spectacular points to save them both. He ripped his FHs, followed by a BHDTL and a reflexive volley to save the first MP. Then he went crazy on his FH to save the 2nd MP. A serve and BHDTL would give him SP on Novak’s serve. DelPo let out a roar. After a sharp CC BH return off Novak’s serve, DelPo broke to take the 4th set. This was show-stopping stuff:
The first SF headed into a decider, as many wondered how the 2nd SF would ever live up to the drama of this one between DelPo and Novak.
The 5th set proved to be a competitive one, but DelPo missed a key BP chance at 2-2 when he hit a wide FH. That was a “key point.” Novak would go on to break DelPo at 4*-3, to serve for the match and a place in the final. The world no. 1 had shown stunning defense to get himself in a winning position. DelPo had one last BP chance to level the set, but Novak saved the BP and he ended up winning the match with his most favored shot that had gone astray for vast portions of this match, the BHDTL.
I’ve never been a fan of Novak’s shirt-ripping celebrations, although Berlocq and Janowicz’s later renditions of the act have sort of brought it back into fashion for me. Thankfully, Novak was a bit more restrained in his celebration this time. Despite this match having all the makings of a final, it was after all (and maddeningly so), only a SF:
Perhaps it was also a sign of respect toward his opponent, who’d challenged him to a very memorable match. The two players shared a hug at the net and Novak was classy as he applauded DelPo in front of the appreciative crowd:
(@Wimbledon) July 05, 2013
Both DelPo and Djokovic gave their post-match interviews, but Novak’s quote about this SF being one of the best matches of his career reminded me of DelPo’s previous matches on grass. Fed has said his Olympic SF win over DelPo, 19-17 in the 3rd set, was one of the matches of his career. Ferru said his straight-set win over DelPo in R4 at Wimbledon last year was the best match he’d ever played on grass. Now Djokovic contributes his piece to the gallery.
It’s certainly a sign of how far DelPo has come on grass, which has always been his weakest surface. Now he leaves Wimbledon with a SF appearance, after months of lackluster results due to poor health. This is a great result for DelPo, given the questions surrounding his recovery from the virus and his knee.
Unfortunately, this match will be brushed aside by some as another example of why DelPo will never recuperate his 2009 form. Some will cross over into outright stupidity and suggest his 2009 USO win was a fluke.
Clearly, I disagree with these dismissive takedowns. It would be nice for DelPo to one day emerge as the victor in these epic matches he takes part in. Still, he’s due a large amount of credit for playing a match whose result was undecided until the very last point was played. I’d say it’s time we stop acting so surprised when he plays so well. Some journalists made out like this was the first time they’d seen DelPo play so well or try so hard, as if they hadn’t seen him play the Olympic SF or his finalist run at IW this year. They’ll continue to reference his 2009 USO win as if he were “lucky” to win it. I say DelPo’s performance at Wimbledon this past fortnight is evidence of why he’s one of the few deserving others to actually have won a Slam.