Wimbledon, England — Having ensured his first trip to a Wimbledon final and first turn at No. 1 in the rankings with a thrill-a-minute victory, Novak Djokovic dropped to his back at the baseline, limbs spread wide, chest heaving.
Moments later, he knelt and kissed the Centre Court grass, while his entourage bounced giddily in unison, huddling in a tight circle up in Djokovic’s guest box.
Clearly, it meant so much to all of them that Djokovic beat 12th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (9), 6-3, Friday in an entertaining and engaging semifinal filled with diving volleys and showmanship. What would mean even more: if Djokovic, who is 47-1 in 2011, can beat defending champion Rafael Nadal for the title Sunday at the All England Club.
As a kid in war-torn Serbia, Djokovic recalled, “I was always trying to visualize myself on Sunday, the last Sunday of Wimbledon. Being in the Wimbledon final — it’s ‘the thing’ for me.”
Top-seeded Nadal extended his winning streak at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament to 20 matches by ending the latest so-close-yet-so-far bid by a British man at Wimbledon, eliminating No. 4 Andy Murray, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. It’s the third consecutive year Murray has lost in the semifinals.
The last British man to win Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936, and the last even to reach the final was Bunny Austin in 1938; since then, the host country’s men are a combined 0-11 in semifinals.
“I feel sad for Andy,” said Nadal, who showed no signs of being hampered by an aching left heel as he seeks a third Wimbledon championship and 11th Grand Slam trophy overall.
No matter Sunday’s result, the Spaniard will be overtaken in the ATP rankings Monday by two-time Australian Open champion Djokovic, who’ll rise from No. 2.
It will be the first time since February 2004 that a man other than Roger Federer or Nadal has been No. 1.