Novak Djokovic faces ‘rested’ Nick Kyrgios in seeking fourth Wimbledon title in row
Three of the remaining singles players at Wimbledon are playing in the first Grand Slam final of their lives.
Then there’s Novak Djokovic.
The Serbian star advanced to the eighth Wimbledon final of his legendary career Friday with a comeback victory over Britain’s Cameron Norrie, who was overwhelmingly favored by the supercharged Centre Court crowd.
Norrie opened by winning the first set, 6-2, but Djokovic roared back 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to advance to Sunday’s final with a chance to win the championship for the fourth year in a row.
“He dropped the focus a little bit a few times, and that’s where I stepped in and really started to control the pace of the match, exchanges from the baseline,” Djokovic said. “He was asking for the support of the crowd and he was getting it.”
The thousands of balls used every year at Wimbledon might look identical to most, but they can have big differences from a player’s perspective.
That will change Sunday when Djokovic surely will be the crowd favorite in the final against the combustible Nick Kyrgios, playing in the first major final of his career.
(Relative newcomers too are Ons Jabeur and Elena Rybakina, each making her debut in the final of a major Saturday.)
Earlier Friday, Kyrgios called the prospect of a final against Djokovic “mouth-watering.” The two have faced each other just twice, both in 2017 on hard courts, with Djokovic failing to win a set.
“It’s tough to read his serve,” Djokovic said. “I haven’t practiced with him or played with him since the last time I lost to him. … On grass I would assume it’s even tougher to read his serve and to return.”
Kyrgios didn’t have to play a semifinal match. That was scrubbed when Rafael Nadal withdrew the night before because of an abdominal injury.
In theory, Kyrgios would be especially well rested for the final, but …
“I had shocking sleep last night, to be honest,” he said early Friday. “I probably got an hour’s sleep just with everything, like the excitement. I had so much anxiety. I was already feeling so nervous, and I don’t feel nervous usually.”
It was 15 years ago that Djokovic played in his first major final, against Roger Federer in the 2007 U.S. Open. Federer won in straight sets to win that championship for the fourth consecutive time.
“I can’t really recall the sensations I had,” Djokovic said. “But, of course, I was overexcited. I didn’t really feel too much pressure to win the match because for me it was already a huge achievement reaching the finals. Of course, most of the pressure was on Roger to win because he was expected to win, he was the favorite to win.”
He acknowledged this situation is similar, even though he was 20 at the time, seven years younger than Kyrgios is now.
One of the stars at Wimbledon each year is Rufus, the Harris’ hawk who scares pigeons away from the stadiums and grandstands.
“That helps him because he’s more mature mentally, he has more years in his legs on the court, and more matches, big matches,” Djokovic said. “Actually, he’s a big-match player. If you see his career, the best tennis he’s played is always against the top guys. That’s why we all respect him, because we know what he can come up with.”
Before this year’s Australian Open, Djokovic reportedly wrote tournament organizers and asked them to lift COVID-19 restrictions for players, prompting Kyrgios to refer to him on Twitter as a “tool.”
But Kyrgios later said he was “quite embarrassed” by the way the unvaccinated Djokovic was treated by the Australian government when he was detained in a visa saga that kept the 20-time major champion from participating in the Australian Open.
That support helped dial down the tension between the two.
“I don’t know if I can call it a bromance yet, but we definitely have a better relationship than what it was probably prior to January this year,” Djokovic said after Friday’s match.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley is a massive tennis fan, and in particular a devout Rafael Nadal fan. He and wife Amy went to Wimbledon for first time.
“When it was really tough for me in Australia, he was one of the very few players that came out publicly and supported me and stood by me. That’s something I truly appreciate. So I respect him for that a lot.”
The outspoken Kyrgios knows he won’t have the crowd behind him and was asked Friday about a London tabloid headline that described his free pass to the finals as Wimbledon’s worst nightmare.
“Look, it’s hard,” he said. “It’s something I have to deal with. That’s just the world we live in. I’m in a Wimbledon final. I know deep down everything I’ve gone through and I’ve worked for. I just try to enjoy the ride.”
Desirae Krawczyk of Rancho Mirage saw her bid to win two Wimbledon titles in the same year fall just short as she and Danielle Collins lost in a women’s doubles semifinal on Centre Court. Belgium’s Elise Mertens and China’s Shuai Zhang, ranked No. 1 in the world, advanced to Sunday’s final by winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
That loss came a night after Krawczyk and Neal Skupski won their second consecutive Wimbledon mixed-doubles title. They beat the Australian duo of Matthew Ebden and Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-3.
The crowd was heavily in favor of Krawczyk and Britain’s Skupski, who seemingly were at ease as they closed in on another title.
“I was telling Neal, on the court I wasn’t really nervous,” Krawczyk said. “For me that’s kind of a bad sign a little bit. But I think when it got to 5-2, I was kind of feeling it. I was like, oh, my gosh, we’re kind of getting to the end. Until that match point, it’s not over till it’s over. You have to keep pushing, playing it out.”
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