Novak Djokovic pulls it together


LONDON -- One of the basic elements to successful tennis is staying on your feet.

Novak Djokovic, who has an uncanny ability to slide from one side of the court to the other like he's on a set of skis, rarely loses his balance despite his almost inhuman mobility.

Disconcerting as it might look, Djokovic can change directions as rapidly as anyone, a pillar to a game that's delivered him six Grand Slam titles. But Wednesday on a worn-down Court 1 at the All England Club, the top-seeded Serb spent nearly as much time rolling around the browning lawn as he did traversing the baseline.

But Djokovic found his footing (literally) after a sluggish couple of sets and went on to beat a game Marin Cilic 6-1, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-2 to reach the Wimbledon semifinals for the fifth straight season.

"Maybe it's the shoes," said Djokovic, who finally changed his adidas sneakers up 3-0 in the fourth set. "Since I changed them, I played really well the rest of the way. I'll keep them."

From that point on, he settled down, losing only four more games. Makes you wonder why he didn't make that decision earlier on.

For Djokovic, this encounter proved to be a rare struggle this fortnight. He had lost just one set in his previous four matches, which came way back in the second round against Radek Stepanek.

"Today was a tough five-setter," Djokovic said. "I played a couple of bad games in the second, and in the third, I had a few chances to get back. In last two sets, I regained control, swinging through the ball with stability in my groundstrokes."

This wasn't a clean match by any stretch for Djokovic, who produced as many unforced errors (32) as he did winners. When things began to get squirrelly in the third set, Djokovic started to lose his composure.

The noise from the fervent fans watching Andy Murray take on Grigor Dimitrov on Henman Hill began to penetrate the walls of nearby Court 1. Djokovic, already in a sour mood, became visibly irritated, complaining to the chair umpire, who, obviously, had no jurisdiction to do anything about it. Djokovic unraveled and found himself in a two-sets-to-one hole.

"[Cilic] raised his game, but I allowed him to get back into it," Djokovic said. "Had a few opportunities I didn't capitalize on and allowed him to step in. I was too passive in my strokes."

Djokovic pulled his game together, though, winning the fourth and fifth sets in just over an hour, a professional effort from a player who once was the face of drama on the tennis scene.

There was a time when Djokovic was either marred by health issues or milking them on a regular basis. His hubristic, callous behavior rubbed players and fans the wrong way. Six years ago at a prematch US Open news conference, Andy Roddick went on a bit of a sarcastic diatribe, listing off all Djokovic's supposed ailments, which included bad ankles, bird flu and SARS, among others.

It should be noted that there was no veracity behind Dr. Roddick's diagnosis, but the undertone in his message was heard: Djoker had acted like a complete blockhead, so much so that he became the game's foremost heel, the Triple H of tennis, if you will.

But then something wild happened. The Serb began to piece together the necessary ingredients of top-flight players. He trained feverishly, made a few technique changes and gave his diet an overhaul. Djokovic eliminated gluten and most of his irritating antics and ascended to the top of the game. In 2011, he actually won 41 straight matches to start the season.

Since then, Djokovic has been a staple in the back end of majors. He's now in his 23rd career semifinal, tying him for fifth place in the Open era.

Though it should be noted that Djokovic has gone 18 months without a Grand Slam title.

Djokovic next takes on Dimitrov, who handed Murray a thorough beatdown in the quarterfinals. As talented as Dimitrov is, he's still green and moving forward the big stage is going to get even bigger.

Some might say: Advantage, Djoker.