Eyeing 4th straight Wimbledon title, Djokovic gains semifinal berth in comeback fashion

Novak Djokovic spotted 10th-seeded Jannik Sinner of Italy a two-set lead in Tuesday's quarter-finals, then worked his way all the way back to pull away and win 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 for his 26th consecutive victory at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.

Outlasts Sinner in 5 sets for 26th consecutive win at grass-court Grand Slam tourney

Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Jannik Sinner during quarter-final play at Wimbledon on Tuesday. Djokovic rebounded from two sets down for a 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win, his 26th in a row at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images)

It says a lot about Novak Djokovic that a two-sets-to-none hole at Wimbledon on a day he was hardly at his best likely left no one thinking the ultimate outcome was a foregone conclusion.

A lot about his pre-eminence at the All England Club in recent years. A lot about his history of overcoming that sort of deficit. A lot about his ability to adjust, to adapt, to right himself quickly. A lot about what might happen if — or, rather, when — he got back into the match and it eventually went to a fifth set.

And so it was that Djokovic spotted 10th-seeded Jannik Sinner of Italy that huge lead Tuesday, then worked his way all the way back to pull away and win 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 at Centre Court, earning an 11th semifinal berth at Wimbledon with his 26th consecutive victory at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.

Among men, only Roger Federer, with 13, has made more semifinal appearances at the place. Among men, only Federer, with eight, has won more championships than the seven that Djokovic would reach by lifting the trophy Sunday for what would be a fourth year in a row.

"He makes you play differently — well, not differently, but in a way that he likes," Sinner said.

Djokovic, a 35-year-old from Serbia, managed his seventh career comeback in a match in which he trailed by two sets — he last did it in the 2021 French Open final against Stefanos Tsitsipas — and improved to 37-10 in five-setters. That includes a 10-1 mark in matches that go the distance at Wimbledon, including nine straight victories; the lone loss came in 2006.

"He's been in this situation many times," the 20-year-old Sinner said. "That definitely helps."

Djokovic was responsible for just one of Wednesday's comebacks: In all four singles quarter-finals on a sunny day, the player who dropped the first set ended up victorious. Norrie edged David Goffin of Belgium 3-6, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5; No. 3 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia beat Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 3-6, 6-1, 6-1; Tatjana Maria defeated Jule Niemeier 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in an all-German matchup.

Norrie, Jabeur and Maria all earned the right to make their debuts in a Grand Slam semifinal.

"Can't enjoy it too much now," said Norrie, 26, who was born in South Africa to British parents, grew up in New Zealand and played college tennis at Texas Christian University. "Just get ready for Novak in a couple days."

The men's quarter-finals Wednesday: No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain vs. No. 11 Taylor Fritz of the U.S., and Nick Kyrgios of Australia vs. Cristian Garin of Chile.

Maria in 1st Slam semifinal at 34

The 103rd-ranked Maria is, at 34, the oldest first-time women's semifinalist at a major and only the sixth woman at least that old to get this far at Wimbledon in the professional era, which began in 1968. The others? Quite a list: Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.

"I always believed that I have something inside," said Maria, who only once before reached as far as the third round. "That I can do this."

Maria defeated Jule Niemeier 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 in an all-German matchup. This is Maria's 35th Grand Slam tournament; she only once previously had even made it as far as the third round.

The others? It's quite a list: Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.

She'll take Jabeur for a spot in Saturday's final. The other women's quarter-finals: 2019 champion Simona Halep of Romania vs. No. 20 Amanda Anisimova of the U.S., and No. 17 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan vs. Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia.

Of the women's quarter-finalists, only Halep owns a major title (she has two).

All-white clothing bothers some, delights others

Before being interviewed on Centre Court about his return to the Wimbledon quarter-finals, Kyrgios traded in his all-white grass-court shoes for a red-and-white pair of basketball sneakers, and swapped out his white hat for a red one.

Big deal? Not to Kyrgios. Not to many, probably. Still, sure seemed to be to a reporter who peppered him with questions about it afterward.

That's because the All England Club has a rather strict policy about all-white attire while players are on match courts during the tournament — which is clearly a nod to the earliest days of tennis, and some athletes think might have been better suited to the 1880s than the 2020s.

"I mean, I always want to wear all black, obviously," Kyrgios responded when asked about the dress code during a pre-tournament news conference he attended in a black hoodie and matching cap.

"It would be cool to allow, like, a black headband or black sweatband. I think it would look cool," Kyrgios said. "Obviously Wimbledon doesn't really care what looks cool."

Neither Kyrgios, nor anyone else, expects a change to the rules anytime soon. And there certainly are those who appreciate it as part of what they consider the charm of the oldest Grand Slam event in tennis.

"For me, what I love about Wimbledon is the tradition and that is what makes it so special, and having the all-white attire is one of the small traditions that I really embrace. It looks crisp, especially against the grass court," said Alison Riske-Amritraj, who reached the third round as the 28th seed. "You don't have to do it at any other tournament during the year. It's very professional. I would wear white for every match, everywhere, so I'm probably biased when it comes to that."

The first of the All England Club's 10-point list of clothing guidelines states: "Competitors must be dressed in suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white and this applies from the point at which the player enters the court surround." The second stipulation: "White does not include off white or cream."

'It's kind of cool'

There are more details, too:

  • A colour trim "around the neckline and around the cuff of the sleeves is acceptable but must be no wider" than 1 centimetre (less than a half-inch), that "Caps (including the underbill), headbands, bandanas, wristbands and socks must be completely white except for" that same size allowance for trim.
  • "Shoes must be almost entirely white. Soles and laces must be completely white. Large manufacturers' logos are not encouraged."

That's absolutely fine with some of the "competitors."

Tommy Paul, who was seeded 30th and got to the fourth round, said the Royal Palm Tennis Club in Pinecrest, Fla, — where the head pro is Eric Hechtman, who has coached Serena Williams and Venus Williams — requires all white when he trains there.

"I don't mind it at all. It's kind of cool," Paul said. "If I see guys doing it at home during practice, then I have no problem doing it for Wimbledon."

One player in this year's tournament said she always worries about getting her white outfit dirty while eating. Some say they were annoyed at needing to find new clothes to be able to play at Wimbledon. Others were excited about it.

"It's very elegant. I really hope they keep this tradition forever, because it's something different. You don't always need to see colours on people's clothes," said Mihaela Buzarnescu, a Romanian who lost to French Open runner-up Coco Gauff last week. "Every year, I think, `Oh, white again. Let's go!"'

Over the years, players have been chastised for violating the letter or spirit of the written rules.

In 2013, for example, none other than now-eight-time champion Roger Federer showed up with neon orange soles on his shoes for his first-round match, which he won — then was, um, reminded of Wimbledon's rules by the club, so he switched to white soles before his second-round match, which he lost, his earliest Grand Slam exit in a decade.

In 2007, Tatiana Golovin played at Wimbledon with red underwear beneath her white dress, leading to this opening exchange at a news conference:

Reporter: "Can I ask you about your knickers?"

Golovin: "Excuse me?"

"Could it be maybe a little bit more up to date? Of course. We are in 2022," said Jessica Pegula, who was seeded No. 8 this year and made it to the fourth round at the All England Club for the first time. "Then again, it's two weeks out of the calendar where you have to do it. It's part of what makes Wimbledon, Wimbledon."

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