Novak Djokovic sees off Kei Nishikori to advance to Wimbledon semi-finals after early wobble

Daniel Schofield
The Telegraph
Novak Djokovic was relieved to get through the quarter final, and is now into the last four - PA
Novak Djokovic was relieved to get through the quarter final, and is now into the last four - PA

From court scheduling to code violations, from poor chair calls to catcalls, Novak Djokovic would be entitled to feel forsaken by the Wimbledon Gods were it not for the fact that he will be contesting his first grand-slam semi-final in two years.

It was here in 2016 that Djokovic’s world came tumbling down in a shock third-round defeat to Sam Querrey. Before that point the holder of all four grand-slam titles was being spoken about as unbeatable. Then a combination of fitness, form and family issues made the 12-time grand slam champion all too fallible.

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That he has entered this tournament as the No 12 seed shows how far he has to go to rescale those former heights. But now Djokovic is on his way, courtesy of a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 quarter-final victory against Kei Nishikori who brought the very best from the 31-year-old.

Some of his returning, particularly during a rally in the fourth game of the first set where he was slipping and sliding across the grass like Jayne Torvill, was simply jaw-dropping.

Yet whereas once Djokovic performed with the cool head of a sniper, now he displays the irascibility a back-street brawler. Fire has replaced ice. And it did not take much for that temper to come bubbling to the surface.

After failing to break Nishikori having gone love-40 up in the second game of the second set, Djokovic threw his racket behind the baseline in disgust, which led to a code of conduct warning from umpire Carlos Ramos that he disputed for the entirety of the changeover. Djokovic immediately dropped his serve as Nishikori took the set.

When Nishikori too bounced his racket at the beginning of the fourth set but escaped any sanction, Djokovic pointed out the inconsistency. “Double standards,” Djokovic told Ramos to boos from the crowd. “Double standards, my friend”.

<span>Kei Nishikori was the first Japanese man to reach a Wimbledon quarter final in 23 years</span> <span>Credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP </span>
Kei Nishikori was the first Japanese man to reach a Wimbledon quarter final in 23 years Credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP

The last part may not have been entirely sincere. “Anybody who saw the match saw that literally touched the grass,” Djokovic said. “I don't know how to describe it. He said that he thinks it damaged the court. Nishikori did the same in the fourth set and he didn't get a warning. I think that's not fair.”

Other things to have annoyed Djokovic included the angles of mid-afternoon light, the constant stream of late-arriving spectators and a second warning for a time violation. All fuel to the furnace. “Sometimes it fires you up,” Djokovic said. Sometimes that's what you need to, I guess, be more alert on the court.”

After being shunted out to Court No 2 earlier in the tournament and then given a 7pm graveyard slot on Manic Monday, Djokovic entrance’s to Centre Court was greeted by hundreds of empty seats with several rows behind the royal box staying stubbornly empty for the duration of the match.

Maybe they were more interested in Roger Federer, maybe they were reserving their seats for the football, maybe they were gorging themselves in hospitality, but whichever way you look at it that was a tremendous sign of disrespect for a 12-time grand slam champion.

Wimbledon 2018 in pictures

Those who stayed away missed the best match of the Championship so far on Centre Court.  His mood would have darkened further when he realised Nishikori had come to play. The World No 28 has lost his last 12 meetings against Djokovic and has not been past the quarter-final of a grand slam in four years, but found the Japanese a much tougher proposition on grass than on paper.

Broken in his second service game, Nishikori immediately broke back more than matching Djokovic’s court coverage and even found the time to bring out a tweener.  Nishikori could maintain those standards and a backhand into the net handed the break back in the first set.

After Djokovic lost his composure and his serve in the second set, the former World No 1 came roaring back with two breaks of serve in the third set and again in the fourth after losing his opening service game.

By reaching his 32nd grand slam semi-final, the second most in the Open era behind Federer, the tempting thing to write is that Djokovic is back. That, however, would be incorrect, according to the man himself.

“I feel if I have to compare the game that I've played, the level of tennis that I've had those years and today, I think it's pretty close,” Djokovic said. “Again, it's kind of hard to copy anything, right? I don't like that. I usually like to recreate something. I know, as everything in life, we are evolving. I'm a different person, different player today.”

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