The fat lady has stopped singing.
For all evidence of his decline, and all reports of his demise, Novak Djokovic is suddenly two wins away from being back on top of the tennis world.
In a contest that featured blistering groundstrokes, stout defense, and wonderful rallies from both players, the 12-time major champion defeated Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals of Wimbledon.
The early stages of the match lived up to the contest’s billing with both men showing flashes of brilliance.
It was Djokovic who struck first. The 12-seed earned double break point after a lovely rally featuring all manner of variety ended with a strong forehand down the line. The three-time Wimbledon champion went on to break Nishikori at the second time of asking for a 3-1 lead after a deep forehand proved too difficult to handle.
However, Nishikori enthralled the crowd in breaking back immediately courtesy of trademark strong groundstrokes and the set went on with little to separate the men until the eighth game. With his opponent serving at 3-4, Djokovic once again found a crack in the armor, pressuring Nishikori and eventually breaking to lead 5-3. The Serb went on to serve the set out and put himself only two sets from his first major semifinal since 2016.
But a bounce back was forthcoming.
Nishikori survived two difficult service games to open the second set and stay in touch. In the second, Djokovic earned triple break point at love-40, but he missed a forehand on the first, and Nishikori erased the others with an immaculate volley and an ace. The 24-seed went on to hold and Djokovic received a code violation for bouncing his racquet against the ground.
Djokovic seemed to lose his edge following the missed opportunities and a subsequent argument with chair umpire Carlos Ramos. Nishikori broke in the game immediately following his own survival after Djokovic netted a slice backhand and then went on to hold for a 4-1 lead.
The 12-time major champion stabilized and held his next two service games, but the man dubbed by many as the greatest returner in the history of the game could not find a way to break back. At 5-3, Nishikori held his serve, and his nerve, finishing the set with an inside-in forehand winner.
Djokovic re-established his prowess and potency to open the second set, producing a couple of impressive rallies including a forehand winner down the line and a dropshot that even the speedy Nishikori could not reach en route to a quick service hold.
Nishikori quickly responded with a strong service hold of his own in a game that featured more outstanding rallies. Djokovic continued to set the pace with an ace down the middle consolidating his second hold of the third set, and at 1-2, Nishikori called for the trainer for treatment on his right elbow.
Both men began to pressure the other’s service games with Nishikori being forced to fend off a break point at 1-2 and Djokovic then responding to save three break points from love-40. But serving at 2-3, Djokovic finally found results, earning another chance after a forehand error from Nishikori and then letting out a scream of celebration when another ball from the 24-seed went awry.
Djokovic held for 5-2 and, with Nishikori serving to stay in the set, upped the ante again. The Serb earned double set point after a forehand miss from the other side of the net and, with a trademark outstanding return, Djokovic put a stamp on the set.
The pattern of pressure service games didn’t stop with the end of the third though as both the men exchanged breaks immediately to open the fourth. It was Djokovic who restored order with a hold for 2-1, but Nishikori was not able to follow suit after missing a slice backhand into the net to surrender his serve once again.
With the 12-time major champion now fully in control, things settled down at least in terms of the scoreboard, with an exchange of three holds resulting in a 5-2 lead for Djokovic. But things remained feisty between the Serb and Ramos, as a time violation warning led to Djokovic feinting as if he was going to throw a ball at the umpire while walking to his chair.
With Nishikori serving to stay in the tournament, Djokovic once again upped his return pressure. The 24-seed missed a backhand long to give the Serb match point and the 3-time Wimbledon champion seized upon the opportunity with an inside-out forehand winner to finish the contest.
Djokovic will next face the winner of Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal.