Wimbledon 2014: Novak Djokovic comes through five-set test against Marin Cilic
Top seed remains on course
In the end Novak Djokovic did what he could to maintain the status quo at the top of the tennis food chain. His five-set victory over Marin Cilic, 6-1, 3-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2, earned his passage to a 23rd Grand Slam semi-final, equalling the mighty output of Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras.
After going two sets to one behind, Djokovic looked like he might be part of the top-four carnage that claimed world No 1 Nadal the night before on Centre Court and defending champion Andy Murray this afternoon.
Sport is a funny business. There is no knowing sometimes how the mind begins to unravel when a man senses an ill wind is blowing in his direction. The effect of reaching parity in the second set saw the racket arm of Cilic begin to move with greater freedom and, commensurately, Djokovic retreat into conservative mode.
It was as if the shock of Nadal’s exit fed into Murray’s wipeout, persuading Djokovic that those results might have a consequence for him. And thus the moment the third set went to a tie-break the mood favoured Cilic, who wrapped it up for the loss of just four points with a serve routinely 10mph quicker.
And this after Cilic began the match like a server up against a tennis player, surrendering one point with a botched drop shot that bounced before it reached the net. Djokovic is, however, not the only one with a champion watching over him. Croatia’s foremost tennis son, Goran Ivanisevic, is a key part of the Cilic camp and if the first set might be categorised as the bad Goran equivalent, the second and third were representative of the good.
It won’t have helped had Djokovic noticed the scoreboard updates, which showed seven times champion Roger Federer going the same way as Rafa and Murray in the first set over on Centre. Having never lost to Cilic, a regrouping of sorts was required. It began with a change of shoes and the removal of the cap Djokovic had worn to counter the sun.
It proved a symbolic move. The deference was gone. The Djokovic of the first set was back with knobs on to take the match to a decider, the fourth set skipping by in less than half the time it took to complete the third.
VIDEO: WHO WILL DIMITROV PLAY IN THE SEMI FINAL?
A break in the opening game of the final set confirmed the momentum shift. Up in the stands, his coach Boris Becker lifted his cap momentarily to smooth his hair. This was not a day for those of a ginger persuasion to be sitting in the midday sun. At least the agony would soon be over. Djokovic fashioned a second break to serve out the match and book a semi-final date with Murray’s destroyer Grigor Dimitrov.
“Dimitrov has not lost a match on grass all year. I’m sure many people see him as a future grand slam winner. His game has improved a lot. And he is getting more experience. He must have played an impressive match because to beat Murray on grass is a massive challenge. But I don’t look too much at that. I concentrate on my own game.”
Cilic had no complaints despite nursing a lingering sense of what might have been. “Against these players, these top guys, you give them a chance to come back and they don’t let you come back anymore.
“I had a good chance today. I played against one of the best in the world. It feels a pity always when you have some chances and you lose, but it’s progress.”
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