WIMBLEDON -- Novak Djokovic is in his first semifinals of a Grand Slam in just under two years, but is angry at just about everything. Including the sun. His latest foray into the final four of Wimbledon is just another addition to his now 32 Grand Slam semifinal appearances, now second on the list behind Roger Federer. But this seems like someone rebooted: a new Djokovic who clearly cares little about outside perspective and is playing on his own terms.
"I'd be home if that was the case," Djokovic said, when asked whether he felt Wimbledon's Gods were against him. "But I'm still here, so ... I'm enjoying my Wimbledon journey."
He had to fight against the sprightly Kei Nishikori, winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, but also had to battle himself, the sport, the crowd and the umpire. Early on he was bothered by the glare off the sun, adjusting his serve and then sporting a cap. Still it troubled him. He barely smiled; emotions were channeled through sporadic shouts of "C'mon!" and the odd fist pump in his box's direction at crucial points.
It wasn't until having secured match point did he look remotely happy.
Asked afterward whether anger helps his game, he responded: "Sometimes it fires you up, so... Sometimes that's what you need to, I guess, be more alert on the court."
Twice he was hit with violations. The first came in the second set for smashing his racket against the well-worn turf behind the baseline.
"Come on, you are joking" was his riposte to umpire Carlos Ramos.
"I just asked him whether he thought honestly that I damaged the court with the racket that I throw. I mean, anybody who saw the match, I mean, saw that literally I kind of touched the grass," Djokovic said later.
The second came at 4-2 up in the fourth, on his own serve, for a time violation. You could feel Djokovic's rage slowly building, bubbling nicely, but he managed to keep it in check to close out the match. Then came another outpouring of emotion, but this time with a smile.
Anger and cutting a disconsolate figure has been a running theme for Djokovic at Wimbledon this year. After his Round 3 win over Kyle Edmund, he accused the partisan crowd of being "unfair." Again he seemed wound up by the crowd during this quarterfinal, pausing at one stage to give a stern stare to one courtside spectator and later, as the majority of those watching loved him being hit with his time violation, offering a response fit for a pantomime villain.
The first set was straightforward for Djokovic, but as his frustration grew in the second set he made uncharacteristic errors -- but Nishikori was playing tennis with great precision.
The crucial turning point came in the third set, with it locked at two games apiece. It was on Djokovic's serve and 0-40 down, he slowed things up, taking on average 29 seconds to serve, and saved all three break points before closing out the game. He celebrated as if the match was won, and went on to break Nishikori in the next. It was a step up in momentum that Nishikori momentarily halted with a break at the start of the fourth, but Djokovic then returned the favour and closed out the match.
Nishikori battled hard throughout. His troublesome elbow needed attention at the start of the third set, but even as Djokovic looked like he was on the verge he continued to push and prod him around the court. Like Djokovic, Nishikori does things on his own terms -- he walks between points, scuffing his feet, and on receiving balls ahead of serve, if the distribution was slightly off he would not take a step left nor right to collect it.
But having got his foothold in the second set, Djokovic's nous and show-court experience shone through, making it 13 wins on the bounce for the Serb against Nishikori.
As he soaked in the applause of the crowd, win secured, there was that old Djokovic again, lapping up the acclaim, turning his hands to the sky and then conducting the crowd in their ripples of cheering.
"I like the level of tennis that I'm playing on right now," Djokovic said. "I really do. I think with the performances I've had, I deserve to be in the semifinals. I don't want to stop here. I hope I can get a chance to fight for a trophy."
But by the time his semifinal starts, it will be Djokovic against the world, again.