Things We Learned From the Men’s Semifinals at Wimbledon

Juan José

1. Rest In Peace, Juan Martín del Cross-Court. I don’t think I’ve ever seen DelPo hit as many backhands down the line as I saw from him today (he even hit an unreal backhand down the line return winner in the fifth set. I felt my brain melt). A shot that I have been waiting to see from him for the past few years, finally arrived today. Why did I expect such a thing from the Tower of Tandil? Because of how technically sound his two-hander already is. It just seemed like an obvious (and necessary) possibility for improvement, given that DelPo was becoming extremely predictable off his backhand wing (hence the moniker in the first sentence of this paragraph), which was being quite costly against the elite.

May Del Cross-Court remain six feet under for the foreseeable future.

2. Novak Djokovic just loves epic matches. The 2011 Wimbledon champ has now taken part in the two best matches of 2013 … and won them both (of course, he also lost a 9-7 five-setter at the French just a few weeks ago, but only the final stanza of that match against Nadal was noteworthy for its quality). Interestingly enough, this seemed like the time when the tables were going to be turned on Djokovic in terms of performing an unlikely escape, since it was Del Potro who somehow fled a fourth set tiebreaker in which Djokovic had two match points.

However, Djokovic ended up avenging two important defeats: the bronze medal loss to DelPo at the Olympics, and the Indian Wells defeat to the Argie earlier this year. The latter had to be in Djokovic’s mind after the fourth set: Del Potro came back to win from a 0-3 deficit in the deciding set of that match. I’m sure the World No. 1 hadn’t forgotten about that one.

3. Juan Martín del Potro was the better player during the first semifinal. This is a sad consolation for him, but deep down he must know it. Novak Djokovic was wildly erratic in sets 1 and 3, but somehow found ways to win both. Strangely enough, when Djokovic raised his level in sets 2 and 4, Del Potro ended up bagging both sets. But while Djokovic’s level oscillated significantly, Del Potro’s blips were much, much shorter. Sadly for DelPo, they were all catastrophic: all of those blips were instantly punished by Djokovic.

That’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re playing the World No. 1 in a Slam semi, no?

4. Having said that, Novak Djokovic should’ve won his match in four sets. He had a handful of opportunities in the first two match points in the fourth set to attack with his backhand down the line – his favorite shot – and just wouldn’t pull the trigger. Djokovic paid the price dearly, as he was forced into a fifth set by a very determined DelPo.

5. Speaking of that backhand down the line … Djokovic’s camp has to be concerned with the way that crucial part of the Serb’s game is performing these days. Yes, match point was a glorious, vintage backhand down the line winner. But that shot was either misfiring badly or simply not available during rallies. That unique, difficult shot, which Djokovic executes better than anybody in the top 10 (top 20? top 30? top 2500?) looked far from a strength today. Heck, at some points it was a downright liability.

During the ESPN Latin America broadcast, Javier Frana was saying that the issue might be a sudden lack of racquet-head acceleration for that shot. I have no idea, so I’ll take his word for it. Still, it was amusing to hear Frana repeat throughout the epic match that he didn’t understand how Djokovic hadn’t figured out how to solve his issues with that (formerly) elite shot, or at least a way to stop giving away points with it. There were wild misses and hesitation all the way until that third match point. And then … the backhand down the line finally appeared to seal the match. Had it done so in the fourth set breaker, an hour of work would’ve been avoided.

6. Watching Djokovic struggle with his signature shot made me realize just how incredible his skillset is. The World No. 1 has an incredible amount of tools at his disposal to survive tennis matches when a part of his game isn’t working well. Today, the serve and the forehand came to the backhand’s rescue. I loved the short, angled cross-court forehands that Djokovic used on the Wimbledon grass today (it’s a shot he traditionally uses more during the clay season). And the serve … it was certainly back to it’s 2007-2008 levels. Proof:


Those are simply astounding numbers. Serving nearly 70% first serves, and winning 83% of those points is simply remarkable. Twenty-two aces and just two double faults put the finishing touches on a fantastic serving day for Novak Djokovic.

The second serve, which is absent from that screencap, proved to be a little more problematic: Djokovic ended up winning just 39% of his points played on that delivery. But I’ll chalk that up to Del Potro putting together a very solid return performance.

Trivia: Djokovic’s fastest serve was only one MPH slower than DelPo’s, and the difference in average first serve speed, as well as average second serve speed, was just two MPH.

7. People love watching players crush the ball. But in my mind, what makes a big hitter more enjoyable to watch is when there’s a capable defender on the other side of the net. Otherwise the points are way too short and the bombs feel too easy, if that makes sense. This is why I dread watching two big guys blast away. It’s the contrast of styles and skills that makes for great tennis (in my #humble view).

8. Speaking of capable defenders, has anybody in the history of the game played defense in the limb-bending way Novak Djokovic is doing at the peak of his powers? I’m not talking about “just” getting to impossible shots. I’m talking about this:

Rafael Nadal in his prime was (and still is, when the knees aren’t being too problematic) an otherworldly defender, perhaps the best ever. But his style of defense is quite different from Djokovic’s. Completely, I’d say: the Spaniard is more of a vertical defender, and his legs are always in command. With Djokovic, that classic paradigm is flipped on his head, as we see from the photos above. The man is lying flat on the ground, for crying out loud. He even uses his off hand as support (he does this on hard courts, too, and I have no idea how he doesn’t skin it).

I’m not quite sure we’ll ever see someone execute the defensive pirouettes that the World No. 1 performs every time he takes a tennis court. No matter the surface, which is no small detail.

9. Tennis is quite a bit of fun when Juan Martín del Potro is mixing it up with the big boys. Let’s hope the former Juggernaut stays at this level for a while. May his body cooperate.

10. All my thoughts on the Murray-Janowicz semifinal can be found by clicking here.


1. Look, I know that Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were the winners today, and I’ll get to them in a moment. But really, Juan Martin del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz were the revelations for me today. It takes four great players to make a really fun (and exhausting) day of semifinals, and it was nice for all of them to show up. Standing ovation, men. (And another big evil glare at Tsonga just for fun for ruining the French foursome.)

2. I really want to go shout on the rooftops: “DELPO IS BACK!” But, considering it’s Delpo, I’ll hold off for a bit, because you never know when a Chardy match is just around the corner. But his serve and forehand were an absolute (re-?) revelation today. In a weird way, I think the knee issues helped him. It made him a little more conscious of his footwork, which is a good thing for him because he often forgets to pick up his feet and gets in his own way–hence the crashing into chairs while chasing down drop-shots when he has a huge lead in the match.

But when his footwork is on point, then he can plant his trunks and really hit the living daylights out of the ball. I like when he does that. It’s pretty damn sexy.

It really is more than just his lethal tennis weapons, though. It’s his whole loveable persona. It’s the sitting down in the crowd, the zipping up Djoko’s shirt, and the wonderful, wonderful hugs. It’s the looks to his box and the looks of awe at his opponent–and sometimes himself. And it’s the facepalms. The glorious, glorious literal facepalms.

Stay with us, Delpo. Please. We need you and your magic pills.

3. Jerzy Janowicz did not play a perfect match, but he also was not completely overwhelmed during his first Grand Slam semifinal, and that is humongous. He is going to be top 10 by the end of the year, and I think he is going to be one of the best members of his generation. I hope that his success will spur on the rest of the youngins and prove to them that they can challenge for big titles too. The ATP has desperately needed a guy like Jerzy in the mix, and I can only hope that he will keep it up. The U.S. hardcourt season will be a whole lot more fun if he (and Delpo) stay relevant.

4. For the BR, my thoughts on the epic Djokovic-Delpo semifinal and Andeeeeeh Murray and Britain.

5. Hearing Andy Murray’s voice crack as he complained about the roof closing was the best thing that’s ever happen to me. He totally Justin Biebered. It was the best.

6. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic both showed why they’re the best two players in the world right now–they’re resilient. But they also both showed why they’re vulnerable today. Murray’s forehand and second serve continue to be a liability, and Djokovic’s usually reliable backhand down the line was … well … not reliable. At all. But both of them trusted themselves enough to keep pulling the trigger on those shots when necessary, and it paid off for both.

But, um, they might want to shore those things up or Sunday might get ugly. These two do not always bring out the best in one another, to put it mildly.

7. Some tweets I favorited today for various reasons:

8. May I be the 1,000th person today to say, “After a crazy Wimbledon, we have the top two seeds contesting the men’s final.”

6 Responses

  1. harmeen
    harmeen July 6, 2013 at 12:07 am |

    Lets say that Player A plays in the two best matches of this year, and finds a way to win both matches. There are two ways to analyze how he won:

    How a tennis analyst analyzes the situation:

    1- The very best matches usually go to 5 sets.
    2- The player who has superior fitness usually wins 5 set matches.
    3- Player A’s fitness is much better than his opponents’ fitness (and just about anybody’s fitness).

    How a tennis analyst who’s a fan of Player A analyzes the situation:

    Player A has now played in the two best matches of 2013. Somehow, he’s found a way to win them both. #TheHoudiniLegendContinues

  2. Rajat Jain
    Rajat Jain July 6, 2013 at 12:51 am |

    Talking about Novak’s backhand down the line misfiring these days (Juan) it is because of the surface. Novak loves hard courts so much for two reasons: (1) His movement is Rafa-on-clay-like on hards (2) Its bounce and pace is perfect for him to blindly trust his backhand down the line and thats where this magic shot of his’ is at its very very best.

  3. Rajat Jain
    Rajat Jain July 6, 2013 at 12:52 am |

    In essence, it will come back in the picture a month from now.

  4. Steve
    Steve July 6, 2013 at 3:17 am |

    Interesting quote by Murray re: friendship. I think even a couple of years ago Murray would have said they were actual friends. Not sure if this is because of some jealousy on Andy’s part that he didn’t pull of the success Novak had in 2011, because after Adidas dropped Novak and took Andy I think up to that point they were both seen as two similarly-styled players who had played together in juniors and who hadn’t reached their potentials.

    Sunday final will be a coin flip. Andy has yet to have been challenged at the level of tennis that Djokovic has shown this entire tournament, but Novak will have to be mature and level-headed enough to realize he’s getting zero crowd support and not let it affect his tennis. If Novak serves the way he has been and if his backhand DTL returns – Djokovic in 4.

  5. 3GamesToLove
    3GamesToLove July 6, 2013 at 8:15 am |

    To be a TOTAL nitpicker–I’ve heard this a couple of times…

    The bronze medal match was NOT played on Centre Court; it was on Court 1.

  6. toot
    toot July 7, 2013 at 1:05 am |

    What I found amazing was that the Djoko/Delpo match set a record for its length and it was played by two notoriously slow, dawdling, ball bouncing players and I haven’t heard or read one single word about time between serves. If Rafa had been playing you know what the narrative would have been from everyone. Bottom line is it was a great match with many fantastic shots and if the players need some time to recover in order to play that level of tennis, so be it. The game is better for it.

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