LONDON (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic is enjoying such a magical year that even patchy form and the acrobatic brilliance of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could not stop him reaching his first Wimbledon final and becoming world number one on Friday.
The Serbian’s 7-6 6-2 6-7 6-3 semi-final triumph over the Frenchman included a bout of early nerves, three great diving exchanges at the net, a topsy-turvy tiebreak and an explosion of jubilant emotion he will struggle to repeat if he wins Sunday’s final.
The second seed will meet incumbent number one and defending champion Rafa Nadal in the showpiece final but will take the top ranking when the new ATP list is issued on Monday whatever happens.
The 24-year-old, who won 41 matches in a row from the start of the year before losing to Roger Federer in the French Open semi-finals, will become the first Serb to be men’s world number one.
“It’s definitely one of the most important achievements and days in my life, in my career. When you know you’re going to be the best in the world and you’re reaching the final of your favorite tournament, it’s something special,” he told reporters.
“(Rafa and Roger) are incredibly consistent with their success and so dominant the last couple years. They don’t give you a lot of chances to become number one. So I guess you need to lose only one match in seven months to get there. If you can do that, then well done.”
Djokovic made a lackluster start and was broken in the first game but he worked his way back into the set with effective if unspectacular play and was rewarded when Tsonga lost his way in the 10th game and surrendered the tiebreak 7-4.
Several athletic encounters at the net, with Tsonga diving around and playing shots practically on his knees, spiced up the semi-final and entertained the crowd with scenes rarely witnessed at the grass grand slam since Boris Becker’s pomp.
Tsonga’s powerful hitting from his shock last-eight win over six-times champion Federer melted away, though, under the sun in the second set as Australian Open champion Djokovic produced a few touches of flair to romp through it.
The third set appeared to be heading the same way before the 12th seed, cheered on by the Center Court crowd, suddenly found a second wind to break for 4-4 but Djokovic hit back for 6-5 only to lose his serve immediately.
The enthralling tiebreak swung both ways and Djokovic wasted two matchpoints before Tsonga, the 2008 Australian Open runner-up, overcame problems at the net to take it 11-9 and spark a serious case of fist-pumping.
Djokovic has not been at his very best all tournament but powered ahead in the fourth set with a break to love for 2-0 when Tsonga’s radar again faltered.
The 24-year-old sealed victory with a fierce service winner and screamed with delight before sinking to his knees and kissing the grass.
“It’s difficult to put into words, it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had on the tennis court. My dreams are coming true, a first final at Wimbledon,” the second seed said.
“I‘m just going to celebrate and take some time but there is another match to come. I’ve been working all my life for this. I’ve been dreaming of this since I started playing tennis when I was four.”
Crowd favorite Tsonga was a gracious loser.
“Today I played well. My opponent was just better than me today,” he said.
“I tried to take my chance on every point, but it was just tough because he was running everywhere and the ball was coming back all the time. I feel tired after this match.”
Editing by Ed Osmond