Novak Djokovic overcomes Roberto Bautista Agut - and the Centre Court crowd - to reach another Wimbledon final

Novak Djokovic during his match against Roberto Bautista Agut
Novak Djokovic during his match against Roberto Bautista Agut Credit: PA

The world had turned against Novak Djokovic, at least from his paranoid perspective. His racquet strings were breaking, rogue bounces were occurring and the Centre Court crowd were firmly rooting for an outsider, Roberto Bautista Agut, with barely an ounce of his pedigree as a 15-time grand-slam champion.

To say that Djokovic was seething would be an understatement, particularly after losing a second set in which the World No 1’s standard fell off a cliff. Yet even as his frustration levels mounted, the Serb still kept his focus when it mattered in the critical seventh game of a tense third set. Facing two break points with a 4-2 lead, Djokovic was handed a reprieve when Bautista Agut fired a juicy half-court forehand into the net. 

The job was only half done, however. Bautista Agut resolved not to lose the next point. What followed was the longest rally ever recorded at the Championships. Corner to corner they went, both refusing to blink, until with the 45th stroke Djokovic took aim and sent a perfect backhand down the line. The defending champion then took aim at Wimbledon patrons who refuse to take him to their hearts with a finger to the lips.

“At times (the crowd) wanted him to come back to the match, maybe take a lead because he was an underdog in the match, I understand that. But I had enough support here over the years, so I don't complain,” Djokovic said not all that convincingly. 

From there, Djokovic returned to his imperious best after what had been a tetchy, testing encounter against an opponent who should have been downing unidentified fluorescent shots on his prebooked stag-do in Ibiza. By the end, the Spaniard seemed punch-drunk by Djokovic’s onslaught. His quest for a fifth Wimbledon title remains on track, even if his Buddhist zen had been interrupted as if he had been woken up by a 3am car alarm.  

“You go through these kind of emotional moments, especially in big matches like this, all the time,” Djokovic said. “Sometimes I show my emotions, sometimes I don't. There's always something that can take you out of the comfort zone. Sometimes you get frustrated. It's important to bounce back really quickly.”

The Centre Court crowd were firmly rooting for an outsider, Roberto Bautista Agut Credit: PA

The first set seemed so easy. Too easy in hindsight. Bautista Agut was understandably hesitant in his maiden grand-slam semi-final. His usually reliable forehand was misfiring badly, more or less handing Djokovic a 3-0 lead. When Djokovic broke for a second time returning a serve most people inside Centre Court initially assumed was an ace, many patrons were already casting their minds forward to what was to come.

Not so fast. Whether it was complacency or the commotion of a sick spectator, Djokovic’s level nosedived as Bautista Agut’s climbed so quickly you would swear the World’s No 1 and 22 had performed some manner of body swap during the changeover. Breaking a string off his first serve, Djokovic deliberately left a return that bounced well inside the baseline. 

He then teed up Bautista Agut for a forehand winner and break of serve in the way a father might throw a cricket ball to a six-year-old. Djokovic’s forehand went from lethal to liability, presenting Bautista Agut with further break points that he was just about able to save. Bautista Agut sealed the second set with a forehand that clipped the net, floated up and just came down on Djokovic’s side. Nothing was going his way and with little encouragement forthcoming Djokovic gestured to the crowd in a particularly sardonic manner. 

His travails continued into the third set as he threatened to smash yet another racket into his supposedly venerated Wimbledon turf. Djokovic’s opening came in the sixth game when he broke Bautista Agut with successive smashes. Then came the seismic seventh game. Djokovic’s frustrations remained, not least when he unleashed a primal scream after failing to put away a routine backhand, but he was still able to cruise into his 25th grand slam final. 

Novak's thoughts

Obviously this has been a dream tournament for me when I was a child, so to be in another final is a dream come true. Playing finals at Wimbledon is something different and I will definitely enjoy the experience.

I had to dig deep. Roberto was playing his 1st semi-final in a Slam but regardless of that he was not overwhelmed by the stadium and occasion, he played really well.

The beginning of the second set he established himself and played better, placed his serves nicely. I got a bit tight. The match could have gone different ways in that third set and I'm glad it went my way.

Of course I'll watch Roger and Rafa! I'll definitely see parts of it. I'm a fan of that match-up as well. It's one of the most epic rivalries of all time.

Half-hour break now before Rafa v Roger

You can follow all the build-up, and then the match, here with Rob Bagchi.

DJOKOVIC WINS - Djokovic 6-2 4-6 6-3 6-2 Bautista Agut

Forehand into the net, then 30-0. Then a wide serve... RBA replies and comes up with a winner. Played. 30-15.

Volley at the net gives Djokovic two match points. Backhand by RBA forces the world No 1 to lose his racket diving to his left! Class shot.

One match point left and... Bautista Agut lands a forehand wide and challenges! If it's out, match over. RBA's convinced. And he's right, it was in! Deuce.

This time Bautista Agut is wide, third match point. Wide with a backhand that clips the net! Deuce again.

Fourth match point... second serve needed. Wide with a forehand! This is taking longer than expected. Deuce again.

Fifth match point... forehand into the net by Bautista Agut! Djokovic wins in four sets. Big hug at the net, RBA played very well in that second set. But it's another final for Novak.

Credit: reuters

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 6-3 5-2 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)           

RBA digs in, up 30-0 and then hammers down an ace for 40-0. Wide from Djokovic, game to the Spaniard and Djokovic will serve for the match.

Djokovic 6-2 4-6 6-3 5-1 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)          

30-0 for Djokovic, who's been excellent at the net. RBA looks broken now. Love hold for Djokovic.

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 6-3 4-1 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)         

Time for RBA to dig deep. Killer double fault makes it 30-30 and then a drop shot comes up short of the net. Break point.

Good serve down the middle but Novak's there - isn't he always - before Bautista Agut backhands into the net! Double break for Djokovic.

Djokovic 6-2 4-6 6-3 3-1 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)        

Definite shift in momentum. Djokovic winning 35 out of 43 points at the net and coming up there more and more now. 

Races into a 30-0 lead with a forehand volley, then 40-0 after a long backhand by RBA. Love hold from the world No 1.

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 6-3 2-1 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)       

15-15 after Djokovic puts in a lot of running to no avail, RBA firing home a smash. 

Djokovic takes another tumble, lots his footing, trying to make a forehand. Stays down a little while but now up. Next ball sits up for Djokovic though and with a smash it's 30-30.

Both players at the net and RBA's lob is long, break point. Bautista Agut long with a backhand! Djokovic breaks.

More on that mega rally.

Djokovic 6-2 4-6 6-3 1-1 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)      

Rare challenge, lost as it turns out by RBA on a backhand that was correctly called long. 30-15, but Novak double faults. 30-30.

Average rally length in this game (on grass remember) is 6.5 shots. That seems low.

RBA nearly returns a Djokovic smash but it's game point, taking by the world No 1.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic slides as he hits a return Credit: AFP

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 6-3 0-1 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)     

Djokovic checks his laces after a sliding shot behind the baseline, landed long. RBA wide with a backhand, but Novak gets an odd bounce and hits wide, 30-15.

Djokovic livid as he fails to return a second serve. 40-30 but the No 1 seed recovers, Deuce. Amazing movement by Djokovic before RBA goes for a drop shot from behind the baseline. Bad idea. Break point.

Great serve though, Djokovic somehow returning before RBA wins the point. Deuce again. Really nice by Novak, backhand drop shot onto the line, RBA's quick but leaves the court open for a Djokovic winner. Break point.

Second serve... long from Djokovic! 'Vamos!' cries Bautista Agut. Deuce again. Perfect volley by RBA, backhand slice, but the Spaniard hits into the net. Long game, nearly nine minutes long. Bautista Agut wide with a forehand pick-up at the net! Break point.

Super forehand by RBA, forces Novak to sky the return, smashed away for Deuce again. And that's very good again by Bautista Agut with a forehand winner. Can he get out of this game... yes! Cracking serve and volley off the backhand, first time he's done it. After over 10 minutes! High-quality tennis here.

Djokovic 6-2 4-6 6-3 0-0 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)    

The No 1 seed serving to win the set. 15-0 after RBA can't return. Bautista Agut clips the net with a return, runs up to return a drop shot but hits wide, whacking the net in frustration. 30-0.

Backhand winner right on the line from Djokovic, three set points. Ah, double fault. Still, two more in the bank.

Up to the net, cross-court drop shot wins the point, reminiscent of how RBA won the second set hitting the net cord as Djokovic takes a 2-1 set lead.

Credit: AFP

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 5-3 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)   

RBA serving to stay in the set. Starts well, 15-0 as Djokovic can't return. 30-0, wide serve too good and RBA puts away an easy forehand volley.

Bautista Agut breezing to 40-0 before a wide Djokovic backhand, love hold.

Fans starting to laugh is exactly how I would react

Djokovic 6-2 4-6 5-2 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)  

RBA faltering a little, forehand into the net. Sliced backhand though into the net by Djokovic, 15-15. And now RBA with a fine cross-court backhand, 15-30.

Long backhand by Djokovic! Two break points for Bautista Agut. Forehand into the net, one lost. 

Another absurd rally, must be above 40 shots, before a superb Djokovic winner down the line! 45 shots it turns out. Both break points saved.

Return into the net by RBA, game point, long by the Spaniard! Huge roar by Djokovic, who is now one game away from taking the third set.

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 4-2 Bautista Agut (denotes next server) 

Mini test here for RBA, down 15-30 after Djokovic somehow gets to a drop shot, races back for the lob and then flicks a forehand onto the sideline. Class point.

Break point for Djokovic after a smash at the net. Huge moment. Second serve... long rally, RBA pinned back on his backhand. Djokovic up to the net, smash, breaks him. Djokovic ahead.

Djokovic 6-2 4-6 3-2 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)                      

Long, wide backhand from RBA to make it 30-15. Djokovic then working hard at the net for 40-15, scrambling before delivering a smash. 

The No 1 seed then scuffs a forehand into the net, very out of character. Superb forehand from Bautista Agut, that's Deuce.

Djokovic comes through though, to move ahead 3-2.

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 2-2 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)                     

Sloppy forehand from RBA drops wide, 15-15, but Djokovic can't pull off a backhand slice drop shot. 30-15, another Djok backhand into the net, before RBA wins it with an ace.

Look who's back in the Royal Box.

Djokovic vs The Fans

Credit: REUTERS
Credit: PA

Djokovic 6-2 4-6 2-1 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)                    

30-0 for Djokovic following a forehand into the net. Being put through his paces behind that baseline. 

First double fault of the match makes it 30-15 but he recovers with a forehand slice, having a chat with his box in Serbian. Great passing backhand shot by RBA, applauded by Djokovic. Easily the best backhand from Bautista Agut we've seen today.

Ace from Djokovic clinches the game.

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 1-1 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)                   

15-15 before both players embark on a ridiculously long rally with their backhands. Ends with a Djokovic smash. 34 shots!

Brilliant by RBA, scorched a forehand, Djokovic stretching as much as possible before the Spaniard wins it with a drop shot, to applause from Novak.

Brilliant forehand by Bautista Agut! Stick that on a stamp. Right down the line into the corner. Game point, Djokovic long with a backhand.

Djokovic 6-2 4-6 1-0 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)                  

Good recovery by Djokovic to strike first in the third set. Interestingly, after RBA won that set, Novak threw his hands up as if to say "go on, clap for him". Bit salty? Will see what it does for Djokovic.

Djokovic* 6-2 4-6 0-0 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)                 

Nice spinning return by Djokovic but then that's a poor lob, easily smashed away by RBA for 15-0. Now 15-15.

Remember those unforced errors? Djok has eight in this set, three for RBA, as the Spaniard moves ahead 30-15. Nice, nice though by Djokovic, up to the net for a backhand volley winner. 30-30.

Top serve though by RBA to bring up set point. And he takes it with a forehand clipping the top of the net! The gods in his favour with the ball dropping the right side. Set won by Bautista Agut.

Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut Credit: AFP

Djokovic 6-2 4-5 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)                

Djokovic serving then to stay in the second set. RBA just wide with a passing forehand, 15-0. More authoritative from Djokovic coming back up to the net for 30-0, then 40-0. 

Long forehand though by Djokovic, then a wide backhand. Hmmm, 40-30. Gets there in the end though, back to the net as RBA puts a forehand into the net.

Can the Spaniard hold his nerve to serve for the second set...

Djokovic* 6-2 3-5 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)               

Djokovic's forehand not firing in this game, two errors making it 30-15. And long again! Two game points for RBA and he only needs one.

Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain Credit: getty images

Djokovic 6-2 3-4 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)              

Nice, nice drop shot from Djokovic. Falls like a stone just over the net for 30-15. Murmur from the crowd though, RBA better from the baseline and tying the game at Deuce. A break here would be huge.

Long though with a lob, game point for Djokovic. Errors from both players leave the game with the advantage to Djokovic, with RBA hitting into the net. Game to the No 1 seed.

Djokovic* 6-2 2-4 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)             

The Spaniard digging in, showing his fitness after returning two Djokovic lobs. 30-0.

40-0 now as RBA seals the game to love. Quite the turnaround.

Djokovic 6-2 2-3 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)            

Brief pause as the stewards attend to a spectator in the crowd who appears to have fallen ill. Warm day at Wimbledon, about 24 degrees Celsius, but there is some cloud cover. Round of applause after the spectator leaves the court with some paramedics.

Clip of the net from RBA works in his favour, 0-15 after a forehand drops the right side. Backhand into the net by Bautista Agut but another forehand error from Djokovic finds the net. 

Now, then. Djokovic long with a forehand and it's two break points for the Spaniard. One saved after RBA hits long with a backhand. Two saved after an ace! Deuce.

Top recovery by the No 1 seed, as RBA's backhand drops past the sideline. Four points in a row from Djokovic to recover and take the game. 

Djokovic* 6-2 1-3 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)           

Can the Spaniard capitalise. Djokovic wide with a forehand then slices a backhand into the net - his level dropping. 30-0.

RBA's forehand now firing, lots of time and pins it deep into the corner. Forehand into the net rules out the love hold, but no mistake on the next point.

Djokovic 6-2 1-2 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)          

Djokovic up to the net to the sound of several cameras going off but RBA gets there with a forehand winner for 0-30! Interesting.

Another new racket for Djokovic as a loose shot brings up two break points for Bautista Agut. Which he takes with a blistering forehand! Rare so far. Djokovic broken.

Djokovic* 6-2 1-1 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)         

Easy hold  to love this time for RBA! Serve looked sharper too.

Djokovic 6-2 1-0 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)        

Easy hold for Djokovic to love.

What to do if you're RBA? The forehand can be great but he's already hit 12 unforced errors, to five by Djokovic. More play at the net maybe? The defending champion has commanded that area.

Djokovic* 6-2 0-0 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)       

0-15 but a better serve from RBA sets him up for the easiest of smashes. Quick racket change for Djokovic as Bautista Agut recovers to 30-15, but that's a brilliant passing backhand by Djokovic for 30-30.

Any long rally feels like bad news for RBA and so it proves again, Djokovic piling on pressure and bringing up set point. Better serve, Djokovic just about returns but RBA scoops a forehand long! First set to Djokovic in 36 minutes.

Credit: getty images

Djokovic 5-2 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)      

Djokovic quickly out to 40-0 and moves one game away from the first set with a love hold.

Djokovic* 4-2 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)     

Cap back on for Djokovic as Bautista Agut takes charge, up 30-0 after making the defending champion scurry around the baseline. Cracking shot down the line by Djokovic before he punishes an RBA second serve, 30-30.

40-30 though with a Bautista Agut ace before some brilliant defence from Djokovic, drop shot up to the net, volleys from both, an attempted lob before Djokovic just gets it back for the point. Deuce.

Almost a carbon copy but this time Djokovic's lob is long. Great serve out wide clinches the game.

Djokovic 4-1 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)    

Djokovic down on his front after sprinting forward for a drop shot and then slipping. The door slightly open for RBA at 15-30 before a couple of amazing forehands, Djokovic with the winner for 30-30.

Bautista Agut long with a forehand and Djokovic seals the game.

Djokovic* 3-1 Bautista Agut (denotes next server)   

Forgive the obvious point, but Bautista Agut could really do with a game under his belt. 15-15, second serve, Djokovic into the net. This might be his chance.

Perfect spin on a sliced backhand by Djokovic then sets him up for a forehand winner. 30-30. Into the net though by Djokovic but he recovers, cancelling out the lob with a smash for Deuce.

Advantage to the Spaniard but a backhand finds the net. Already into double figures for unforced errors. But a loose Djokovic forehand is too long and RBA clinches his first game.

Roberto Bautista Agut during his match against Novak Djokovic Credit: PA

Djokovic 3-0 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)  

No cap anymore for Djokovic as he sprays a backhand wide. Bit of pressure at 15-30, RBA forcing the error. Djokovic up at the net and that puts off Bautista Agut, wide with a forehand, 30-30. 

Some real whip on that Bautista Agut forehand but he overcooks that one, game point for Djokovic, who then up at the net hits long with a volley for Deuce.

Two quick points though give Djokovic a 3-0 lead.

Djokovic* 2-0 Bautista Agut (denotes next server) 

Missed forehand by RBA for 0-15, before some superb low shots at the net, Bautista Agut's backhand perfectly weighted for the point.

Sloppy forehand though from the Spaniard, bit tight and down 15-30. Now two break points after another forehand error. Long by RBA! Djokovic breaks.

Djokovic 1-0 Bautista Agut* (denotes next server)

Bit of wind around the court as Djokovic takes his time, down 0-15 after a fine Bautista Agut return (if I shorten to RBA, you know who I mean).

15-15 after a decent rally, before RBA scoops a backhand long. Djokovic quickly wraps things up with two good serves.

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

OK, we're ready

Caps on for both players. Few notable actors in the Royal Box.

Jude Law  Credit: REUTERS
Hugh Grant Credit: REUTERS

Both players out on court

Sun's out on Centre, perfect conditions. Crowd filling up quickly too.

Definitely the highlight from Djokovic's win over Goffin

And here's how the Spaniard booked his place in his first Slam semi-final

Bautista Agut has a phenomenal reason for missing his stag do

But is the defending champion loved?

It's been a common topic of debate in the build-up to this championship. Oliver Brown dives in to find out.

If Djokovic still toils in the popularity stakes, it has not been for want of trying. Throughout his period of stunning success, he has doled out chocolates in press conferences, described Centre Court as “the cathedral of our sport”, spoken powerfully about his upbringing in war-torn Serbia, and even funded research at Harvard into the impact of conflict on children’s minds.

What more, in the eyes of his doubters, especially in this country, does he have to do?

Novak has found his Zen

Or so he said on Thursday, as Tom Morgan reports.

Training sessions have been light-hearted and playful while, at the digs he is renting, he appears to have spent more time worrying about injured wildlife than he has about tennis. Djokovic explained how he had been looking after an injured baby bird found in the ­garden of his rented house.

Welcome

Hi everyone. The first of our two semi-finals gets underway at 1pm (BST), with Novak Djokovic in pursuit of another Wimbledon crown facing Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut. 

Here's a preview from Associated Press.

Novak Djokovic only has to look back a few months to remind himself that he shouldn't underestimate his next opponent at Wimbledon.

The top-ranked Serb will be facing Roberto Bautista Agut, a player who beat him in both of their meetings in 2019 - on hard courts in Doha and Miami.

So while the match is pitting a four-time Wimbledon champion with 15 major titles against a player in his first Grand Slam semifinal, recent history suggests that things might not be quite so one-sided.

"He has won twice against me so far this year. That's certainly going to give him confidence coming into the match," Djokovic said.

Ahead of the quarterfinals, Bautista Agut was - somewhat surprisingly - the only player who hadn't dropped a set this tournament. That streak ended against Guido Pella, but the 23rd-seeded Spaniard still won 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Djokovic had an easier time against David Goffin after erasing an early break, winning 6-4, 6-0, 6-2.

Djokovic is known for his ability to extend rallies and keep the ball in play with his defensive ability, and Bautista Agut said that's a style of play that suits him well.

"He is very solid from baseline. He likes to play a lot of rallies," Bautista Agut said. "Well, I like to play against (an) opponent like this, to play a match with a lot of rallies. Against Novak, that's what we do."

Credit: AFP

On the grass at Wimbledon, though, there might not be so many of those rallies. But Djokovic thinks Bautista Agut could be even more dangerous on the quicker surface.

"The ball bounces lower on the grass, which is I think more suitable to his style of the game. He doesn't like when the ball bounces higher to his backhand," Djokovic said. "Obviously playing on grass, it's different. Semifinals of Grand Slam, (I'm) going to try to use my experience in being in these kind of matches."

With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal set to square off in the other semifinal, Bautista Agut is the odd man out in a final four that includes the sport's ever present Big Three. In fact, it seems not even he had expected to make it this far.

The Spaniard had scheduled his bachelor party for this week instead.

"I had planned to be in Ibiza right now. We had everything organized already. My friends, six of them, are all there," Bautista Agut said. "Well, it feels better to be here in London."