By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, July 11, 2023
Wimbledon—No peaks protrude from No. 1 Court yet Jannik Sinner wore the satisfied smile of a man reaching higher ground.
Sinner repelled Roman Safiullin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to reach his first major semifinal at Wimbledon.
The eighth-seeded Sinner joined prestigious company today as just the third Italian man in history to reach the Wimbledon semifinals, after Nicola Pietrangeli in 1960 and Matteo Berrettini, who bowed to Djokovic in the 2021 final.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 11, 2023
“It feels good. It means a lot to me,” Sinner said. “Obviously, as I said on court, there is a lot of work behind this. Very happy that I can play my first semifinal here in this special place, a special surface. So let’s see how it goes the next match.”
The 21-year-old Sinner is the youngest man to reach the Wimbledon semifinals since 2007 when a 20-year-old Novak Djokovic did it. Tomorrow, either world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz or Holger Rune, both 20 years old, will break Sinner’s mark.
Standing between Sinner and a maiden major final is seven-time champion Novak Djokovic.
Reigning champion Djokovic continued his mastery of Andrey Rublev 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 to advance to his 46th career Grand Slam semifinal matching rival Roger Federer’s all-time record.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic rides a 33-match Wimbledon winning streak into this semifinal rematch with Sinner.
A year ago, Sinner built a two-set lead over Djokovic in the Wimbledon quarterfinals before the Serbian superstar subdued Sinner 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to charge into his 11th Wimbledon semifinal.
It was Djokovic’s seventh career comeback from two sets down in a Grand Slam—and his edge in experience proved pivotal.
Contesting just the fifth five-setter of his young career last July, Sinner dropped serve early in the third, fourth and fifth sets and could not close the gap on the champion.
So what’s changed for the talented Italian in this semifinal rematch?
Asked how he’ll handle closing time this time, Sinner pointed out the obvious challenge: Building a two-set lead over Djokovic in the first place is no easy task.
“First of all, you have to go up two sets to love,” Sinner said with a smile. “In the other way, it’s going to be a completely different match than last year. He knows me better as I know him better also. It’s going to be also a little bit tactical.
“In the other way, it is also a little bit mental, no? If you play against Novak, it’s always tough to play here, especially on Grand Slams. But I’m happy. I will fight for every ball. I will enjoy the moment, but knowing that I can go hard, no, trying to beat him.”
Jannik Sinner is the youngest man to reach the semi-finals since 2007…
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 11, 2023
As the new face for Gucci, Sinner carries a Gucci bag on court with him these days.
While he’s raised his style game, Sinner says it’s all about substance against 23-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic.
Pointing to his stronger and fitter physique, sharpened slice and better net play, Sinner believes he’s a more complete player than the contender who pushed Djokovic to five sets last July.
“For sure physically I have improved. I’m much stronger. I can stay on court for many hours without suffering,” Sinner said. “Also mentally you’re going in a slightly different mental side on court knowing you are also top-10 player. It is a little bit different. You might go as a favorite most of the time on the court till certain rounds of the tournament.
“Also this is different. I think also game-wise or tennis-wise I feel better. If I have to play the slice, I can play now without thinking. Before was always a little bit different. I can go to the net knowing that I have good volleys. I have some good things now in my game, and hopefully I can use it in the right way.”
Though Sinner has played assertive tennis, he has yet to face an elite player at The Championships this month.
In fact, Sinner, who defeated No. 111 Juan Manuel Cerundolo, No. 98 Diego Schwartzman, No. 79 Quentin Halys, No. 85 Daniel Elahi and No. 92 Safiullin is the first man to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon without facing a Top 50 opponent since 1995 when both Pete Sampras and Boris Becker reached the final four without facing a Top 50 player.
The question is: Can Sinner, who has practiced frequently with Djokovic, but has yet to beat him, pull off an improbable upset?
“Yeah, it’s for sure one of the toughest, if not the toughest, challenge in front of me if Novak wins today because, as I said before, it’s a Grand Slam,” Sinner said. “It is a very, very important round, semifinals. He has won 23 Grand Slams. Won Australia, won Paris. He is in a huge confidence boost also.
“It’s going to be tough, but I will obviously try my best, no? Last year I played a very good match against him. I have learned about it. Hopefully I can show this also on the court. I’m going to stay or I’m going to stick with my game plan in my mind, and hopefully I can execute it in the best possible way. So let’s see.”
Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty