LONDON (AP) — Novak Djokovic is back in the Wimbledon final for the third time in four years after holding off Grigor Dimitrov in a battle of the old guard against the new.
The top-seeded Djokovic ran off six of the final seven points in the tiebreaker to beat the rising Bulgarian star 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7) to advance to his 14th Grand Slam final – and 10th in his last 13 majors.
Djokovic, the 2011 champion and runner-up last year, overcame the loss of five straight games in the second set, seized control with a more aggressive game and took advantage of eight double-faults by Dimitrov – including three in a row in the third game of the fourth set and one in the final tiebreaker.
Djokovic will face the winner of the other semifinal between seven-time champion Roger Federer and big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic.
Djokovic is going for his seventh Grand Slam title. He lost in his last two major finals, falling to Rafael Nadal at the French Open last month and at the 2013 U.S. Open.
“All these matches, (I) could have won, so I’m looking forward,” Djokovic said. ” It’s a big challenge, it’s a big match. Whoever I play in the finals, I have to be on top of my game. This is Wimbledon final, and it’s the biggest event we have in (our) sport.”
The 11th-seeded Dimitrov, with his girlfriend Maria Sharapova watching from his guest box on Centre Court, came in with a 10-match winning streak and had been seeking to become the first Bulgarian to advance to a major final. Nicknamed “Baby Fed” for a style of play resembling Federer’s and long billed as the game’s next big thing, he pushed Djokovic to the limit but came up short when he could have forced a fifth set.
“His first semifinal, but he was fighting,” Djokovic said. “It was a tough match. Fourth set could have gone either way. … But overall, I’m just really glad to reach another Wimbledon final.”
The match seemed to be headed for a fifth set when Dimitrov went up 6-3 in the tiebreaker, giving him three set points. But Djokovic held firm and erased all three. Dimitrov then served his eighth double fault to go down 7-6, handing Djokovic a match point.
Dimitrov saved that one with a forehand pass to make it 7-7. Djokovic hit a forehand winner on the next point as Dimitrov slipped to the turf – one his many tumbles. Djokovic then closed out the match with a forehand passing shot that clipped the top of the net.
Dimitrov showed flashes of his talent, hitting more winners than Djokovic (48-45) but had more unforced errors (33-26). Each player broke serve three times.
The match was played in tough conditions, with a swirling wind and slippery grass at the back of the court causing problems for both players. Dimitrov struggled particularly with his footing. On one point in the third set, both players ended up face forward on the grass after an exchange near the net.
Djokovic looked in command after winning 20 of 24 points on his serve to take the first set and going up a break at 3-1 in the second. He had a break point with a chance to go up 4-1, but Dimitrov saved that with an ace and went on to take five games in a row and the set.
The momentum seemed to be with the Bulgarian, as he kept Djokovic at bay with low, slice backhands and forehand winners.
But the match turned back in Djokovic’s favor on a key point at 3-3 in the third set. On a break point, Dimitrov attacked Djokovic’s second serve with a deep forehand return. Djokovic hit a lucky backhand that dropped into the court for a winner.
Dimitrov played a poor third-set tiebreaker and looked deflated after serving a double-fault into the net to fall behind 5-2.
At 1-1 in the fourth set, Dimitrov did something few players do – he served three straight double-faults to go down 0-40. He hit a forehand long on the next to go down a break. Yet Dimitrov showed resolve, breaking right back in the next game with a cross-court forehand winner.
The women’s final will be played Saturday, with 2011 champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic facing 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, the first Canadian to play in a Grand Slam singles championship match.