In contrasting manner, though — the former after a stormy struggle and the latter in a breeze
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer advanced to the final of Wimbledon, the former after a stormy struggle and the latter in a breeze.
How much separated Novak Djokovic from Grigor Dimitrov in an engrossing semifinal contest depends on whether you deal in arithmetic or experience. Crunch the numbers, and they show the difference was a mere four points (140 to 136) in the 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(7) victory for the top-seeded Serb — a scoreline that doesn’t reflect the closeness of the match.
But what separates champions from challengers is the way they play in the face of adversity and how they handle the crucial points. And, here, the gap was enormous.
It was not always, though, that the wisdom of experience prevails over the passion of youth. While Djokovic ran away with the first set, earning an early break and serving out the first set to love to pocket it 6-4, the pressure was turned right back on him.
Dimitrov, who decided to get more aggressive, began testing the Djokovic serve from the very beginning of the second set. Although he dropped his own serve to go down 1-3, he broke back with some fine returns, and ran away with five straight games to take the set 6-3.
By then, the young and hugely talented Bulgarian was in his stride, mixing up his ground-strokes on the backhand side with topspin and slice, and varying both pace and height to unsettle the Serb.
Djokovic’s response was to approach the net much more — 19 and 22 times in the last two sets against just two and four approaches in the first two.
As for Dimitrov, he seemed to be battling not so much the inadequacies of his game but the conflicting pulls in his mind, uncertain at times about whether he should play his natural game or turn the heat on by taking on a more aggressive, and thereby, riskier route.
In retrospect, he might have stayed with the former course as he ended up committing more unforced errors (19) than Djokovic (15) in the last two sets, which went to tie-breaks. At the same time, he failed to press home the advantage, squandering six of the seven break-points that presented themselves.
The tie-break in the third set was settled quickly, sealed by a Dimitrov double-fault and an over-ambitious drop shot.
The fourth set saw the Bulgarian losing a game to love after serving three successive double faults and then losing a point off the second serve.
But he broke back to 2-2 just when it seemed like the fight would go out of him, and pushed Djokovic into a tie-break that saw him ahead at 6-3, only to find the champion clawing back to 6-6. Here, the Bulgarian served a calamitous double-fault, and it was all over when a Djokovic forehand left him stranded.
However, Dimitrov did enough to signal his capacity to compete at the highest level, and Djokovic graciously conceded that he had played against “a future star”.Comfortable win
After that, Federer made light work of another young contender, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to ease into his ninth Wimbledon final.
Milos Raonic, who, some believed, would trouble Federer with his serve, was outclassed, unable to make any impact on a man who has been playing some of his best tennis in years.
Coming into this match with a 98 per cent success in his service games and a quarterfinal in which he calmly took the giant-killing Nick Kyrgios apart, the 23-year-old Canadian seemed slow and heavy footed in comparison to Federer, who moved him all over the court and neutralised his serve with deft chipped returns.
Raonic may have done better had he chosen to sacrifice a little pace in favour of accuracy on his first serve. While he managed to win a reasonably high 80 per cent of them, he could get a mere 55 per cent of them in — not enough to trouble a seven-time champion.