Grigor Dimitrov put a spirited fight against number one seed Novak Djokovic on a slippery Centre Court at Wimbledon, but lost in four sets 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (9-7) in just over three hours of play.
A gripping match was decided by fine margins and the Serb’s experience – a six-time Grand Slam winner, including at Wimbledon in 2011.
Djokovic dug deep to save four set points in the fourth frame, including three straight in the tiebreak, securing his place in the final with a passing cross-court shot that left his opponent stranded at the net.
The first set was decided by one poor game from Dimitrov on service, while Djokovic did not give his opponent even a whiff on his own service, putting his first 19 first-serve balls of the match into play.
Both players slipped repeatedly on the caked dirt along the Centre Court baselines, one point ending with both of them sprawled near the net, with the blustery winds adding an additional degree of difficulty to controlling the ball.
Whether it was the nerves, the dusty court or the wind, Dimitrov mishit a lot of balls early on and started showing signs of frustration early in the second set. Down 1-3 and facing breakpoint on his own serve, he managed to hold out, however, and then won four more games, breaking Djokovic twice to tie the match at one set apiece.
Dimitrov’s sliced backhand gave Djokovic plenty of trouble, pinning the Serb back at the baseline, as both players gave each other a lot of challenge on the opposing serve.
In the third-set tiebreaker, Dimitrov’s nerves surfaced briefly, but just long enough to hand the decider to his opponent with his poor decisions. Those nerves continued in the fourth set, when Dimitrov served three consecutive double faults to gift Djokovic a break of service, but he bounced back to win the break back in the next game.
In the end, with three set points to send the match to a decider, Dimitrov slipped at crucial times to give Djokovic the advantage.
Speaking to BBC after the match, the Serb, who could reclaim the world number one spot if he wins the final, said: “He deserves respect – it was a tough match. The fourth set could have gone either way.”
Dimitrov, for his part, will break into the ATP Tour top 10 when the next rankings are announced on July 8, his deep run at Wimbledon pushing him to ninth, one ahead of Andy Murray, the defending champion whom he ousted in the quarterfinal.
(Top: All-England Club Centre Court, screengrab via BBC.)