After the storm the calm.
Novak Djokovic advanced effortlessly to his sixth consecutive Wimbledon semi-final with a straightforward victory over the US Open champion, Marin Cilic. Following the exertions of his fourth-round, five-set victory over Kevin Anderson with its attendant tantrums and tribulations, this was as effortless a quarter-final victory as the reigning champion could have wished for as he prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
The Serb, coming to Wimbledon off the back of his French Open disappointment, called it “a very solid performance”. And so it was in a match in which he refused to offer his cowed opponent even the slightest chance of an upset. “I managed to make three decisive breaks in each set,” said Djokovic. “I have been playing really good. I hope I have that extra gear and it can come out in the semi-finals and the final stages of the tournament.”
Such was the straightforward nature of this victory, afterwards he faced more questions over the ballgirl he had yelled in the direction of during his fourth-round win. “I have talked with the girl and she said she didn’t mind. We cleared it up. I apologised. I didn’t direct anything to her. It was in the moment of the battle,” he said. “I am sorry she was there in that moment but the media made a much bigger deal out of it.”
Djokovic initially looked a little tired following his exertions against Anderson in the previous round, when he secured a tense victory over five sets and two days but made unusual errors – a backhand sent very long here, a mishit there.
But Djokovic is formidable and in contrast to the unusual sight of him at times being all at sea against Anderson, this was a performance of masterful control, in which he won by almost imperceptibly turning the screw at the right time.
When it mattered he made it count, consistently forcing Cilic on to the back foot and waiting for him to make an error. As the Croat – who did not earn a single break point – said afterwards, it was the “small things” that mattered.
The unusually edgy Djokovic of the fourth round was banished in favour of the focused model of consistency with eight grand slam titles to his name, commanding proceedings from the baseline. Each time Cilic let the door open an inch, Djokovic barged right through.
Cilic had not beaten Djokovic in 12 previous attempts. Only once in those dozen matches had he taken the world No1 to five sets – but the fact that match was here at Wimbledon in the same stage last year gave the Croat a scintilla of hope.
Neither player’s path to this stage had been entirely seamless, certainly not compared with the smooth progress made by Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
Where Djokovic had to battle back from two sets down over two days against Anderson, Cilic had to overcome John Isner in five in the fourth round and was also taken the distance by Ricardas Berankis in the third.
Djokovic tested Cilic’s resolve as early as the third game, converting a volley to break the Croat’s serve. At the start of the first set the rangy Cilic had pursued the tactic of trying to approach the net wherever possible but soon appeared to abandon the idea.
On Djokovic’s third set point the pair exchanged sumptuous half-volleys and Cilic saved again with an exquisite cross-court dink. But the Serb was not to be denied and converted his fourth to seal the first set.
It was a similar story in the second set, Cilic trying manfully to work his way back into the match but crumbling in the ninth game to hand Djokovic the crucial break of serve. And again in the seventh game of the third set Cilic sent a forehand woefully long to hand Djokovic the initiative again as the Croat’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, ruefully shook his head.
Victory for Djokovic brought up the usual barrage of statistics. But one stands out – this will be his 25th grand slam semi- final. “I try not to take it for granted. You need to earn it, you need to work your way through,” he said.
Following the stop-start nature of Murray’s victory over Vasek Pospisil in the preceding match due to rain showers, which eventually saw the roof closed, the decision was taken to roll it back. As it was, the grey clouds overhead failed to bring forth the threatened showers.
And so it was for Djokovic, moving on without exertion to face Richard Gasquet. He said he had put the disappointment of losing in the French Open final at Roland Garros behind him to focus on Wimbledon. “It wasn’t easy to digest the loss in the final against Stan Wawrinka,” he said.“ But this is sport. You have to keep on going.” And so he has. As Djokovic signed autographs on the way off court, he did not have a single bead of sweat on his forehead.
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