It’s getting to the point where every time Novak Djokovic drops two sets at a Grand Slam, he’ll be even bigger favorite than it was at the start of a game. If it isn’t already.
For the seventh time in his career, Djokovic pulled off the feat yesterday at Wimbledon, tricking future star Jannik Sinner into the hopeful impostor before snatching it in a 5-7 2-6 6-3 6- 2 6-2 advancement to the semi-finals. Djokovic had looked completely exhausted in the second set after losing a 4-1 lead in the first. It’s rare that he looks tired and out of sorts, considering he’s one of the fittest people on the planet. You can almost always rely on Djokovic to do it all, even if his shooting falters a bit. But that wasn’t the case in the second set, when he actually looked like he was 35 and gave everyone around that age a glimmer of hope that it was indeed coming for everyone. .
The look of lethargy shouldn’t have fooled us, and maybe Sinner knew what was coming because even though he was playing incredibly well, he got nervous in the third set. It seems like everyone is doing it while playing Djokovic, wondering where the bear trap is as they lead the way. Each stage gets even more careful as they get closer to victory. It’s yet another mental veil that the Serb throws over his opponents. Sinner is going to be a big thing one day, with his elephant gun of forehand and mobility. But that day continues to be dragged down by Djokovic and Nadal in tennis’ cruelest tease as they refuse to hand over the game to anyone else.
The other cast, and the reason Djokovic is so ready to make these kinds of comebacks, is that his game usually doesn’t need a lot of tweaking to get back on track. While others might need to reclaim a lot of ground to rediscover their shot and their shooting lines and their winners galore, or someone like Nadal needs to tap into a reserve of energy and fury that is not can -not always being there physically, Djokovic’s game is not built on that foundation. He’s capable of it all, but Djokovic’s greatness simply lies in being clean and simple, with a metronomic range of groundstrokes that land a foot or less from the baseline and simply push his opponents off. from the field or tempts them to try to time their shots in a risky way. off the rebound. This leads to a lot of shanks, sprays and short balls that Djokovic can pounce on.
Djokovic was clean in the most stifling fashion in the last three sets of the match, with just three unforced errors in the third and fifth sets. When Djokovic is this clean, the rallies drag on, the muscles burn, the mind flattens and Djoker only gets stronger feeling the wither through the net of him. And then he wears it all down and instantly goes from defense to attack when he does.
There’s also the question of being the best returner ever, so there are no easy points to be found anywhere, and you can feel the opponent drowning among all the shots they have to hit. . Sinner had an ace in the final two sets, which might help explain how he was beaten twice in each.
Djokovic is able to come back just because he stays up. Even when things go well for someone for two sets, the next three sets will be filled with shots returning to him within contact distance of his feet until he is pushed back to stepping on the toes of the lines. And no matter what the opponents come up with, Djokovic gets there and sends it right back with depth. You can shoot him with everything you have for as long as you can, and when the dust clears, he’s still right there, where he was, dusting his shoulder. No matter how badly he sometimes looks, he’s only a game or a shot away from finding the level of still object he’s been for a decade or more.
While coming back from two sets sounds and feels like a major turnaround and a game overturn, for Djokovic it’s just a minor tweak to the dials. It’s an adjustment, a nudge, which is why he’s most inclined to do it. And now his opponents know it’s happening, which means Djokovic leads or trails in a match, his opponent’s knees bang. They know as well as we do that he’s never more than an arm’s length away from finding him and that he’s just there, still and impenetrable.