Novak Djokovic has been smoothly repairing the damage to his reputation at Wimbledon but it could be all about to hit the buffers.
Djokovic’s last two Grand Slam appearances have ended in deportation and a chorus of jeers but the six-time Wimbledon champion has been warmly welcomed at the All England Club, unlike Melbourne and Paris.
However, he must now face new home hero Cameron Norrie in the men’s singles semi-finals, the crowd he’s patiently courted in recent days swinging hard against him.
“I know what to expect with the crowd, a semi-final of a Slam in his own country, he’s obviously going to have all the support,” said Djokovic.
“He’s not got much to lose, it’s a first for him and every victory from now on is a big deal. We’ve practised a few times together and I know his game well. We’ve played once before but in a very different tournament and conditions to this. I will do my homework and get ready.”
Djokovic won that previous encounter at the ATP Tour Finals in Turin last year but was far from fluid in his quarter-final encounter with Italy’s Jannik Sinner, rallying from two sets down to advance 5-7 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-2.
A carefree Sinner executed a perfect game plan for the opening two sets, attacking Djokovic and swinging at every chance that came his way – and rarely missing.
Considering Sinner had never won a match on grass before this week, the upset of the Championships loomed, until the world number 13 got as tight as a drum and Djokovic rattled off three sets without a sweat.
“I was not playing well and I was being dominated,” he added. “Thankfully Grand Slams are played in best-of-five, so I had opportunity to come back.
“He didn’t have much to lose but when he was two sets up I felt I had everything to lose.”
Djokovic has been warmly welcomed at the All England Club this fortnight – perhaps the Grand Slam where the crowd likes him – love is too strong a word – more than any other.
And he might have to bottle those feelings for a while, considering there appears to be no shifting on USA border rules that state US Open players who have not been vaccinated against Covid cannot enter the country.
“What happens after Wimbledon is unpredictable at the moment, so I don’t pay attention too much to that,” added Djokovic.
“I try to focus my thoughts here, and then we will see what happens afterwards but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have completely new motivation because of the circumstances.
“I feel always very motivated and inspired to play the best tennis on the Grand Slams, particularly here, this is arguably the most important tournament in the history of our sport.
“This tournament and this Centre Court has inspired me to start playing tennis, playing here will always be my childhood dream.
“Every time I step out on that court, I feel obliged to give it all.”
The task for Norrie is steep, Djokovic on a roll is a sporting force of nature even a partisan crowd can’t stop.
PHOTO: Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his Wimbledon quarter final match against Italy’s Jannik Sinner (Reuters via Beat Media Group subscription)