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Novak Djokovic shows resolve in historic win over Juan Martin del Potro

Photo: Carl Cour/AFP Getty Images/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic fended off Juan Martin del Potro in the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history.

WIMBLEDON, England -- Novak Djokovic beat Juan Martin del Potro, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-3 on Friday in the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history. Here are three quick thoughts on the four-hour, 43-minute match.

The complete Novak Djokovic. Djokovic may not have the aesthetic appeal of Roger Federer. He may not have the unconventional left-handed look and extreme spins of Rafael Nadal. But he has the strength of having no weaknesses. His strokes are unimpeachable. His serve is a weapon (he out-aced his opponent 22-4). His fitness is superb. And maybe most important, he has learned how to win, and plays as if there is no alternative.

Friday brought yet another classic Djokovic fight. This one featured enough highlights to fill the time slotted for a conventional match, but what can't be captured is Djokovic's defiance. Whether it was chasing after shots to prolong points, absorbing del Potro's shots or recovering from the disappointment of losing two match points in the fourth set to win in the fifth, everything about Djokovic said (screamed), Just to be clear: There's no way I'm not advancing to the final.

NGUYEN: Game-by-game analysis of a Wimbledon classic

Take a bow, Juan Martin del Potro. Then take a few days off. We spoke about the Big Three in men's tennis, and then it expanded to the Big Four. One wonders if it's almost time to welcome another player -- the only other player to have won a Grand Slam title since 2005 -- to a Big Five.

Del Potro fell down hard in the first game of his quarterfinal match against David Ferrer, only to get up and win in straight sets. Friday, he showed that same courage. In a match that had all the elements of a prize fight, del Potro gave everything he had for an entire afternoon. Showing no ill effects of his knee injury, he moved well, served well and, of course, unloaded lasers from the baseline -- his trademark whipping running forehand in particular.

Down two match points in the fourth set, he saved them with his bold strokes. Even in the fifth set, long past his second (or third or fourth ...) wind, he nearly broke Djokovic in the final game. That's as well as we've seen him compete since the 2012 Olympics, where he beat Djokovic in the bronze-medal match at the All England Club. And it bodes well for the rest of his campaign.

"I think this match is going to be memory for a few years,'' del Potro said. "We play for four hours and a half on a very high level. We didn't make too many errors. I don't know if the rest of the players can play like us today.''

PHOTOS: Djokovic, del Potro dig deep

Tennis is a game of inches. There was a point early in the fourth set that epitomized the entire match. Both players threw haymakers from the backcourt, grunting out of exertion with each blow. Yet del Potro won the point when one of his whipping forehands clipped the net and dribbled over.

For five sets, both players engaged in a brutal and closely contested match. And it was ultimately decided by a loose point here, a stoned overhead there, a line-licking shot, a blitzed return that was halted by the top of the tape. Reminiscent of Djokovic's loss Nadal in Paris, for all those points -- 366 in all Friday -- just a few could have swayed the outcome.

"It was one of the best matches I've been a part of," Djokovic told the BBC. "One of the most exciting, definitely. It was so close. You couldn't separate us."

Mailbag

I enjoy your insight, but I'm disappointed to see you not give credit where credit is due today. The semifinal between Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska was a match, by any standards, for the ages, and will contend for match of the year. I was disappointed to read this quote from your article about Marion Bartoli's win referring to the Liskicki/Radwanska match as one of the "better women's matches you'll see." Even though college basketball is not as clean or skilled as pro basketball, no one ever refers to college basketball in the same disparaging manner that journalists treat the women's game. Please stop, and just admit it was a great match today, men or women.
-- Jeri, Queens, NY

• I think you're reading too much into this. But, yes, it was an absolutely a great match, male or female. To me, it wasn't just the score. It wasn't just the pitting of (perhaps) the game's best server against (perhaps) the game's best returner. It wasn't just the frisson of personal animus. (That was less a postmatch "handshake" than a random brushing of palms.) To me, the best part was that both players remained aggressive and played to win, not to avoid defeat.

Did I detect a note of sarcasm in your tweet about the dream women's final being Lisicki-Bartoli? I think it's great that these two women will have a chance at a Grand Slam title. If the top four ranked women deserved to be in the final, they would be there. But they aren't.
-- Matt Valdez, Fort Collins, Colo.

• Not at all. I, too, think it's great that we'll have a first-time champion. Realistically, it will be a capstone to the career of an eccentric veteran who always kangaroo hopped to her own drum, or the coronation of a new star. Is it the dream final among some combination of Serena/Maria/Victoria Azarenka? No. But who cares? I know where I'll be tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. local time.

Do you really think Bartoli's drill is that weird? That seems like a pretty great way to hone some already stellar hand-eye coordination?
-- Jay, Phoenix

• Put "Bartoli practicing" into YouTube and you'll see some, um, unique drills and exercises. But, hey, they work for her. And Jay is right. While hitting balls out the air at a rapid clip is unconventional, it's not THAT weird.

A friend casually said to me, "If [a women's player] wins the title it'll be a bad sign for women's tennis." And it occurred to me I'd never, ever heard anyone say that about a men's tournament, though I've heard it said hundreds of times about the women. Just for laughs -- because after all, this would never point to how we are almost institutionally sexist when it comes to women in sport -- which of the eight men's quarter finalists at Wimbledon would be it have been 'worst' if he'd won?
-- Kevin James, London

• Here are either two virtues or two dirty secrets about tennis. First, it only takes seven matches to win an event. You're crazy to squirt embalming player, much less a Federer/Serena level champion. I wouldn't pick Federer to win the U.S. Open. But can a champion reel off seven wins, five or them likely to be against lesser-ranked foes? Sure. Second, there are majors every year. No single event is going to jeopardize, transform, kill or invigorate the sport. This has been a crazy Wimbledon, but in less than two months, there will be another major.

Your "Auto-Correct" piece on Tennis Channel had me rolling in the aisles! For the poor unfortunates who did not get to enjoy this, please post a link -- this is no time for modesty!
-- Susan, Castro Valley, Calif.

• Tomorrow we'll try and post Taylor Townsend playing with a wooden racket.

Have you ever spoken to or conducted an interview of any of the famous chair umpires of this era like Mohamed Lahyani, Pascal Maria, Lars Graff or Steve Ullrich? It must be quite fascinating as they have probably witnessed more drama at a closer distance than anyone else in the sport, apart from the players.
-- Dayasagar, Bangalore

• I've had a few brief conversations, often off the record. I remember speaking with Shino Tsburubuchi a few months after Serena Williams threatened to asphyxiate her with a tennis ball. But there are all sorts of rules against "fraternizing." Allegedly if officials see players in hotels lobbies or departure gates or Starbucks lines, they're not supposed to talk.

Should she beat Lisicki in Saturday's final, at what point does Bartoli become part of the GOAT conversation?
-- Brian, West Hartford, Conn.

• Um...

Shots, Miscellany

• Helen of Philadelphia: I'm impressed that Bartoli channeled her inner Federer-circa-2004 with the "reclining hero pose" after she won today. I always thought that was the most impressive of the Federer celebratory moments, just for sheer physical difficulty. If she wins on Saturday, I would recommend that she go with the Federer's leap into the air from 2009, which was the second best.

• Nicole: Two things I would love for you to bring to light in your column: First, he ridiculous treatment of the ladies' semifinals on ESPN, specifically the many times BOTH matches were cut away from in order to show portions of the men's DOUBLES semis. Yes, I get that it's the Bryan brothers, who are American and going for a non-calendar year Golden Slam. It still smacks of second-class treatment of lesser-known ladies singles players, especially since I can't imagine such a thing occurring during the men's semifinals. And second, the need for ESPN to offer ESPN3 as a subscription service. It's terribly unfair that those without the proper cable provider are left out in the cold. You'd think they would jump at the chance for such a money-maker! I would subscribe in a heartbeat.

(We had readers praise ESPN yesterday. Fairness and balance and all...)

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