LONDON -- Top-seeded Novak Djokovic took down No. 11 seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7) to advance to his third Wimbledon final, where he'll play Roger Federer.
Dimitrov, 23, who will enter the top ten in the ATP rankings on Monday, allowed his nerves and the windy conditions on Centre Court to get the best of him in his Grand Slam semifinal debut. Djokovic opened the match with some serious serving, hitting 19 consecutive first serves in. He leaned on his serve to easily pocket the first set and earn an early break in the second.
With 3-1 lead, Djokovic he regressed a bit as Dimitrov elevated his play, losing five straight games and ultimately the second set. After staying on the baseline for the first two sets, Djokovic made a concerted effort to finish points at the net over the next two sets. He wasn't always successful, converting 27 of 47 net approaches, but the tactic disrupted Dimitrov's rhythm off the ground.
"I was playing in the semifinal against a future star, he is already a top player after beating Murray and he deserves respect for that," Djokovic said. "For his first semi he was really fighting and it it was tough. Like my last match against Cilic, I allowed my opponent back into the match and I am just pleased to go through."
But play in the tiebreakers proved to be the difference in the match. In the third set tiebreaker, Djokovic quickly earned a 4-1 lead, and Dimitrov double-faulted and sprayed errors to lose it. In the fourth set tiebreaker, Dimitrov had a set point on his serve at 6-5. However the Bulgarian played too tentatively; ultimately he double-faulted to give Djokovic match point, and the Serb converted to improve his record in Grand Slam semifinals to 14-9.
"He has quality shots especially the running forehand and a great touch and he is playing well when is aggressive and defending and that is something he has improved on in the last six months or so. It is a good win for me I am glad to be part of a great match."
Game-by-game analysis of the match below.
11:14 a.m. ET | Novak Djokovic defeats Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7) to advance to his third Wimbledon final.
Djokovic got the first minibreak in the third set tiebreak, but this time it's Dimitrov who strikes first, as Djokovic sends a ball long to give Dimitrov a 2-1 lead.
Great point between the two that Dimitrov wins at the net for 3-1, but he gives the minibreak back with a poor forehand unforced error. Yes, Grigor, that was facepalm-worthy.
The two head to the changeover with Dimitrov holding a 4-2 lead after Djokovic sends a weak forehand unforced error into the net.
Serving at 4-3, Dimitrov puts a weak second serve into the middle of the box, and Djokovic puts the backhand into the net. Dimitrov follows that up with a sneaky approach into the net, and he finishes with a high backhand volley down the line to set up multiple set points at 6-3.
Djokovic wins his two points on serve, and huge pressure here for Dimitrov serving at 6-5. He goes huge on the first serve and puts it into the bottom of the net. But a patient point from Djokovic as he slowly and methodically opens the court and the Serb has saved his fourth set point so far. 6-all.
And then, can you believe it, Dimitrov double-faults and it's Djokovic with match point. Dimitrov saves it as Djokovic goes serve-and-volley on match point and gets passed. No, Novak. You're not Boris. Yet.
Djokovic serves at 7-all and earns his second match point as Dimitrov hits the deck hard behind the baseline.
Djokovic converts! Clutch performance from him on a day he didn't play his best.
11:01 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, tied 6-6*.
Amazing series of points played by Dimitrov to earn set point. He slapped a running forehand winner down the line to get to deuce and then shows off his speed and hands with a sliced volley that lands plum on the line. But Djokovic saves with a good first serve to the body that Dimitrov blocks into the tape, and the Serb holds with a huge roar.
Dimitrov holds at love. Djokovic holds at love. We're going to a tiebreak.
10:49 a.m. ET | Dimitrov holds, leads 5-4*.
Two quick drama-free holds. Tiebreak coming?
10:45 a.m. ET | Dimitrov holds, leads 4-3*.
Djokovic falls behind 0-30 on his service game. Remember, the Serb was up a set and a break at 3-1 in the second when Dimitrov reeled off five straight games to take that set.
Dimitrov earns a break point with a nice approach and volley combo but Djokovic does well to save it, hitting a skidding forehand off a hard slice to earn the point. The Serb shaking his head at his box, frustrated by, well, everything right now.
At deuce he double-faults to give up another break point in the game, but Dimitrov sends a forehand long. On the next point it's Djokovic who sends a ball long to give up his third break point of the game, but saves it with a good serve. He finally holds with two more great serves.
Dimitrov holds easily. Much to Maria Sharapova's relief. She's been stressed:
10:34 a.m. ET | Dimitrov breaks back, leads 3-2*.
Djokovic can't consolidate. Good work from Dimitrov to bounce back and immediately get that break back. He gets in trouble again on his own service game, falling behind 0-30 and throws in some surprising errors off both wings, but he scraps out the hold with an ace. Resilient.
Great line from John McEnroe on BBC after Dimitrov tried to hit a two-handed backhand flick winner and sailed it.
"Did he just hit that with two hands? Talk about Plan...G."
10:25 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *2-1.
Horrible service game from Dimitrov in his second service game. Serves three straight double-faults to open it and Djokovic breaks at love. We've seen Dimitrov have those sorts of nervy service games before but it seemed like he put those woes behind him.
I enjoy tennis but I mainly enjoy watching the gorgeous girlfriends look terrified when someone breaks their boyfriend's serve. So scared. — Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) July 4, 2014
10:13 a.m. ET | Novak Djokovic wins the tiebreak 7-2, leads 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2).
First minibreak goes to Djokovic at 2-1 as Dimitrov slips again during the rally and can't recover. There's lots of talk about shoes and the court conditions causing these two to falter so badly, but honestly, if you try and slide on grass, aren't you going to fall down? You're not actually supposed to be able to that on grass.
Djokovic consolidates to 4-1 in the tiebreak and then Dimitrov double-faults to fall behind 5-2. Dimitrov then puts a poor backhand into the net, and Djokovic serves it out easily with a 7-2 win in the tiebreak. Couldn't ask for more from Djokovic in that tiebreaker.
10:05 a.m. ET | Dimitrov holds, tied 6-6*.
Fantastic point on game point for Dimitrov that ends with both men down on the grass. Great athleticism from Dimitrov once again. Such an entertaining player to watch.
More holds of serve. We're going to a tiebreak.
9:58 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 5-4*.
Djokovic has an opportunity at 15-30 on Dimitrov's serve, but the best returner in the game sails an easy backhand return long off a second serve. His net attempts have left a lot to be desired but he's still coming in regularly. He gets to deuce on Dimitrov but the Bulgarian holds. Djokovic holds at love.
The Serb got very frustrated in that return game. Opportunity lost.
Djokovic tosses racquet in air, runs forward to awkwardly catch it. Prob his best result today coming to net. — Chris Chase (@chaztopher) July 4, 2014
9:50 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
Djokovic just isn't thinking straight. Down 0-15 he decides to serve and volley after a 90 mph second serve and he pays the price. Dimitrov earns break point at 30-40 and runs around to hit a huge inside out forehand return but Djokovic somehow redirects a short ball down the line that dies before Dimitrov can track it down. Lucky.
Pretty straightforward stuff so far from Dimitrov in this set. His level hasn't dipped too much.
9:41 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
Djokovic is definitely changing up tactics. He's already been to the net nine times this set. He came to the net five times combined in the first two sets. The success rate isn't great -- he's won a little over 50 percent of the points -- but at least it puts the pressure on Dimitrov to come up with some passing shots.
9:33 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
It feels like it took him an hour and 20 minutes to do it but Novak Djokovic finally finds himself up at the net. He comes to the net again but Dimitrov shows off his scrambling defense and tracks down ball after ball before he puts a hard forehand at Djokovic at the net and the Serb can't handle the pace, putting it into the tape.
All holds to start the third set.
9:22 a.m. ET | Grigor Dimitrov wins the second set 6-3 to level the match at a set apiece.
That's three straight games to Dimitrov now and the Bulgaria gets his second straight break. Djokovic has gone ice cold. There was no way he was going to match his first set service numbers, but he's serving at 61 percent first serves in, winning 58 percent first serves, and 33 percent of his second serves. Dimitrov is serving at around the same percentage but he's winning 86 percent of his first serves in this set. The Bulgarian is also getting back to his attacking, all-court style. He's 11 for 11 at the net this set. He was 5 of 9 in the first.
The slice and court position the last 5 games have changed this match around for Showtime Dimitrov — Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) July 4, 2014
Dimitrov serves it out at 15. It speaks volumes about where Djokovic's head is at that he actually stops the point on set point thinking a looping ball landed out. Hawk-Eye shows it was in and Dimitrov levels the match by winning five straight games.
Love this shot of the Dimitrov backhand in full flight:
9:12 a.m. ET | Dimitrov breaks, leads 4-3*.
Sure enough, Dimitrov gets break points again on Djokovic's serve and this time he converts for his first break of the match. Dimitrov's heavy slice is doing him well in this set. According to the BBC, 60 percent of Dimitrov's backhand slices are coming in at over 3,000 rpms, making for a severe bite off the grass. By comparison, Djokovic hasn't hit one with that heavy of spin and most of his are coming in at just over 1,000 rpms.
Dimitrov consolidates his break and we're back on serve in this set. Dimitrov's mother is very excited:
9:05 a.m. ET | Dimitrov holds, trails *3-2.
Dimitrov finally earns his first break point, but the dust bowl conditions behind the baseline are his downfall. He tumbles to the ground while trying to change direction, and Djokovic saves the point with a forehand winner. Djokovic holds but at least he made some headway on the Djokovic serve. That could be a confidence booster.
8:52 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *2-1.
Dimitrov is just not seeing the ball well today at all. Hasn't had a string of good clean hits on the ball in a while. Serving at 1-all, 40-30, he throws in a bad double-fault and stares back up to the sky as if the sun got in the way of his toss. He earns game point with his fifth forehand winner, but a great return from Djokovic gets him on his heels and he hits an error. Djokovic earns a break point and converts, as Dimitrov gets pulled wide to his backhand and he hits the netcord and the ball deflects long.
Another early break for Djokovic and Dimitrov is up against it. He hasn't settled into this match at all, due to a combination of the conditions and Djokovic's clean start to the match.
CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images
8:38 a.m. ET | Novak Djokovic wins the first set 6-4.
Love hold for Djokovic to close out the set. That was a flawless start to the match. He lost just four points on his serve and gave away no free points, hitting just three unforced errors.
8:34 a.m. ET | Dimitrov holds, trails *5-4.
After 19 consecutive first serves made to start the match Djokovic finally misses one long. Human after all. Both men exchange easy holds.
That early break in this set has really taken the air out of the start of this match.
8:29 a.m. ET | Dimitrov holds, trails *4-3.
Another easy hold for Djokovic. Why have they been so easy? He's served 15 first serves and they've all gone in. Through three service games he hasn't missed a single one. That makes your job very easy.
Love hold for Dimitrov.
8:24 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *3-2.
Djokovic holds easily and then Dimitrov out of nowhere plays an absolutely terrible game. Should have left a ball that was going out but swings and puts it long, then double-faults, then hits a backhand into the middle of the net, and then a forehand approach he sends two yards long. That's a shocker and that will likely cost him the set.
The conventional wisdom was that Dimitrov needed to win the first set to make this a match. That might be off the table now.
8:17 a.m. ET | Dimitrov holds, leads 2-1*.
Eight points into the match and Dimitrov already broke a string. Not sure how that happened exactly, as he barely gets his racket on a couple of Djokovic's serves before having to swap rackets with Djokovic serving at 40-love.
Easy holds to start the match for both men. There's a bit of wind on Centre Court.
8:12 a.m. ET | Warm up
It's a warm day in SW19, which is precisely what the forecast called for. Dimitrov was consulting with coach Roger Rasheed about how to handle the heat for this match, which many are expecting to be a long grueling affair. The Royal Box is packed today, with former players and celebrities. Lindsay Davenport, Pam Shriver, Larry Ellison and Bradley Cooper are just a few of the faces all spiffed up today.
Oh and Maria Sharapova. She's decided to join us to watch her boyfriend try and upend the No. 1 seed:
Easy warm-up for both men. Dimitrov will serve first. I suspect the British crowd will be backing him today. They love an underdog and he's been getting a lot of ink from the British press the last month, after winning Queen's and then somehow morphing into the "Bulgarian Beckham".
Ready? Play .
No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic will play No. 11 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first of the Wimbledon men's semifinals on Friday. The two will open on Centre Court starting at 8 a.m. ET, and the match will be televised by ESPN.
Djokovic, who has reached 16 of the last 17 Grand Slam semifinals, leads their career head-to-head 3-1, and beat Dimitrov in straight sets the last time they met at a Grand Slam (2013 French Open). But the Bulgarian, who ousted defending champion Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, is riding a 10-match winning streak on the grass courts -- he won the title at the Queen's Club before Wimbledon.
Before this year, Dimitrov, 23, hadn't advanced past the second round at Wimbledon. Djokovic, 27, won the title in 2011 and was the runner-up last year.
Dimitrov will break into the top 10 on Monday. If Djokovic wins the title, he'll take over the No. 1 spot from Rafael Nadal.
The winner will play Roger Federer in the final on Sunday.