WIMBLEDON, England — Novak Djokovic overcame his protege at Wimbledon on Wednesday, holding on to reach the semifinals for the third time in his career with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over 18-year-old Australian qualifier Bernard Tomic.
Djokovic has been practicing with Tomic on-and-off since the two became friends last year in Australia, but this was the first meeting between the two in a competitive match.
After Tomic put a forehand into the net on match point, the pair had a brief chat at the net. Then, with the crowd applauding, Djokovic did the same while motioning toward Tomic.
“It was a very even match. In the first set I felt I played quite well,” said Djokovic, who finished the match with fewer winners than Tomic, 43-39. “Then I played one really bad service game and he got back into the match. And from that moment on, he was the better player.”
“It’s getting bigger and bigger now,” Djokovic said. “I’m going to get ready for whoever I play against, try to focus on my game. I need to get some things better for the next round.”
If Federer, Nadal and Murray advance, it will be the first time that all four of the top-seeded players have reached the semifinals at back-to-back Grand Slam tournaments. Djokovic and the others all reached the same stage at the French Open this month.
At the start on Court 1, Djokovic appeared to have little to worry about, rolling through the first set and on his way to a fifth straight major semifinal. But Tomic didn’t quit, instead breaking Djokovic to take a 3-1 lead in the second set and eventually evening the match.
Tomic again went up a break in the third, but that’s when Djokovic got going. The two-time Grand Slam champion won five straight games to take the third set, and then won the first two games in the fourth. Although Tomic got back on serve at 2-2 and was two points from winning the set at 5-4, Djokovic soon broke to take a 6-5 lead and held for victory.
“It was really hard to predict where he’s going to go. He was not making a lot of unforced errors from the baseline, and that made my life really difficult,” Djokovic said. “I tried to change the pace, but he was better at that. We were playing cat and mouse, I think. But in the end, I’m just happy to get through.”
Djokovic started the 2011 season by winning 41 straight matches, but that came to an end with a loss to Federer in the French Open semifinals. If the Serb reaches the final at the All England Club for the first time this year, he will guarantee himself the No. 1 ranking. He can also claim the top ranking if Nadal fails to defend his title.
Tomic was the youngest man to start in the men’s draw this year, and the youngest to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals since Boris Becker defended his title in 1986.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press