August 10, 2022

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Djokovic rallies into semifinals, will face Norrie

LONDON — This is it. Novak Djokovic, the six-time champion, will take on Nick Kyrgios...

LONDON — This is it.

Novak Djokovic, the six-time champion, will take on Nick Kyrgios for the Wimbledon title.

For Djokovic, it’s a record 32nd grand slam final and a chance to close to within one of Rafael Nadal on the all-time winners’ list, with his 21st major. For world No. 40 Kyrgios, it’s a first slam final and an opportunity for him to join a long list of Australians to have won the title.

At 35, Djokovic has the experience; at 27, Kyrgios has the firepower and the benefit, in theory, of having had a couple of extra days off after Nadal pulled out before their scheduled semifinal.

Kyrgios has won both of their previous meetings, but both were in 2017, a year when Djokovic was struggling with injury and motivation. A lot has happened since then but the final, as Djokovic said, is likely to include “fireworks.”


Why Novak Djokovic will win

Well, because he’s Djokovic, a man who has not lost on Centre Court since Andy Murray beat him in the final in 2013. Since that day, he has taken his tally of titles at Wimbledon to six and one more would put him level with Pete Sampras and just one behind Roger Federer.

That’s probably motivation enough, but Djokovic also knows that, because of his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19, current rules in the United States and the fact that he’s banned from entering Australia, it could be nine months before he’s able to play another grand slam. He might not get many more chances.

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Moreover, grass is a surface on which he excels, just as much as on hard courts. His serve has that bit more pop and his returns, always the hallmark of his game, are still as good as ever. He has won 59% of points on his opponent’s second serve, a figure that illustrates how much pressure he puts on the server.

And then there’s experience. Djokovic knows what it feels like to get ready for the final, he knows how to deal with the nerves and even though Kyrgios has a huge serve and massive ground strokes, he is better than anyone at soaking up power.


Why Nick Kyrgios will win

Kyrgios says for all his belief in himself, he never really thought he would one day be playing in a Wimbledon final. But after scraping through his first-round match and coming through several controversial moments, he has played outstanding tennis to reach his first slam final.

He’ll go into the final with confidence, not just from his form, but also from the fact that he has won both of his matches with Djokovic. Even if both were in 2017, he will remember the fact that he won both in straight sets and didn’t lose serve in either match.

Though John Isner hits more aces, and others don’t make as many mistakes, Kyrgios’ serve is up there among the best. He has averaged 24 aces per match — more than half of his first serves don’t come back, he has been broken just six times and he’s landing 70% of his first serves. If he does that against Djokovic, he’ll have a chance.

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He also has had a couple of days off after Nadal’s withdrawal, so he should go into the final fresh and raring to go. With hot weather predicted for the final, freshness could be a factor.


What will happen?

On paper, and given his experience, Djokovic has to be the favorite. But he has started his past two matches slowly, two sets down to Jannik Sinner and a set down to Cameron Norrie, so he’ll want to avoid another. Kyrgios has the firepower to blow anyone off the court, but he’ll need to play probably the perfect match and serve at his absolute best to get it done. The odds are that Djokovic will find a way, perhaps in four close sets.