Wimbledon men's semifinals preview: Novak Djokovic vs. Grigor Dimitrov
LONDON -- Novak Djokovic, the top seed and world No. 2, is two wins away from both a Wimbledon title and reclaiming the No. 1 ranking. That quest begins Friday against No. 11 seed Grigor Dimitrov, who stunned defending champion Andy Murray in straight sets to make his first Grand Slam semifinal.
The two take Centre Court at 8 a.m. ET. Here's what you need to know:
Hometown: Belgrade, Serbia
Coach: Six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker. Djokovic brought on Becker at the start of the season to replace/work alongside longtime coach Marian Vajda.
Style of play: Aggressive counterpuncher. Djokovic can turn the tables in a rally with one shot, and getting him on the run actually backfires often. His backhand down the line is the key to his baseline game. If that shot is cranking, he's nearly impossible to beat.
Best surface: Hard courts. No surface rewards his blend of defense and offense like the hard courts, on which he's won five of his six majors.
Biggest win: He's won six Grand Slam titles, and while each run has included some big wins, his five-hour, 53-minute effort to beat Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in the 2012 Australian Open final laid bare Djokovic's transformation into tennis' iron man.
Why he'll win: Djokovic's game has built-in fail-safes. When his shots aren't firing, he can rely on his defense. When his serve isn't as effective as he'd like, he can count on his return to give him chances to break. His suffocating defense will force Dimitrov to be patient and outwork him. Djokovic is 3-1 against Dimitrov, winning their only match at a Grand Slam, last year at the French Open in straight sets. And at this stage, with just two matches to go until the trophy is awarded, experience matters. Djokovic has been at this stage of a major 22 times, including five times at Wimbledon, while this is Dimitrov's first Slam semifinal.
What he said: "[The upsets of second-seeded Nadal and third-seeded Murray] don't affect me at all because I just try to focus on my own matches, because that's something I can influence. Media, fans [expect] those guys to reach the final stages. But if it doesn't happen, it's obviously a surprise. But, again, it shows and it proves that at a Grand Slam you cannot underestimate any opponents."
What Dimitrov said: "We're both pretty aggressive players when we need to be. Defending skills are almost at the same level. I got to use every single mistake that he [makes]. You know that you're not getting [many] freebies against him."
Random fact: Djokovic shaved his head in celebration of Serbia's Davis Cup win in 2010. He immediately regretted it.
On-court quirk: Watch Djokovic's footing. He's been falling down all over the place.
Hometown: Haskovo, Bulgaria.
Coach: Roger Rasheed. The intense Australian has been working with Dimitrov since last October, transforming him from a player who used to cramp on court during best-of-five matches to a physically resilient competitor.
Style of play: All court. Serve and volley? Sure. Chip return and crash the net? Why not. Hang behind the baseline and rally for 25 strokes? But of course. Dimitrov can do it all. There's a reason he earned the cursed nickname of "Baby Federer." He has flair and creativity, and now he's backing it up with execution and decision-making. His defense is tremendously underrated too.
Best surface: Grass. He's won a title on every surface this year, but his grass-court prowess is evident. He was a junior champion in 2008, made his first ATP semifinal at Queen's Club last year and is riding a 10-match winning streak on grass this season.
Biggest win: Defeating Murray in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
Why he'll win: Throw out all the talk about head-to-head records and experience. This is a new Grigor Dimitrov. This was a guy who used to celebrate massively at just making quarterfinals and semifinals. Yet after dumping Murray in the quarterfinals, he simply pumped his fist as if he expected it. He showed great confidence and poise, and when Murray raised his level of play and made a charge in the second set, Dimitrov simply mirrored him. He's willing to impose his crafty game these days, sneaking in behind second-serve returns, using his hard slice effectively and keeping his in-game tactics unpredictable. That blend rattled Murray, and it could unsettle Djokovic as well. The key for Dimitrov is his serve. He's been broken just three times in the tournament, but Djokovic remains the best returner in the game.
What Dimitrov said: "Of course, he has the experience and all that behind him. But at the same time, I've been playing great tennis. I believe in my skills at the moment."
What Djokovic said: "The fact that he hasn't lost a match in the grass-court season this year says enough about his quality. Also winning against Andy. I'm sure many people look at him as a potential Grand Slam winner. Maybe here, maybe in the Grand Slams to follow."
Random fact: He's a neat freak who sometimes showers six times a day.
On-court quirk: Hitting ridiculous shots that make you question the laws of physics. Like this one:
Djokovic in five sets.