This has been a long time coming.
Okay, maybe not that long, but Novak Djokovic has spent the first half of the year proving he's the player to beat in 2011. We thought the first few tournaments were just good luck. When he won Miami right after Indian Wells, we acknowledged his prowess on hard courts. When he took Belgrade, we wrote it off as home-court advantage with few dangerous opponents. When he captured Madrid -- beating King of Clay Rafael Nadal in the final -- we started scratching our heads. And then after a title in Rome we really took notice.
We were all brought down to earth, of course, when his dream run came to a halt in Paris, but his slightly sullied streak resumed at the All England Club where, after five rounds of fairly routine play, Novak Djokovic was again one win away from seizing the #1 ranking.
It wasn't the straightforward match up you'd expect, though. Instead of another Major match-up against six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, he faced an ostensibly less-intimidating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. But the Queen's Club runner-up held a surprising 5-2 record against the Serb, most recently a come-from-behind, five-set victory in Melbourne last year, and he was seeded here a solid seven spots ahead of his actual #19 ranking.
And the first semifinal contested on Friday did not disappoint. Tsonga began with a break of Nole's serve and had the opportunity to serve out the first set before being forced to a tiebreak. Djokovic came roaring back and took a two-set -- plus a break -- lead when the Frenchman finally seemed to wake up. He broke the current world #2 twice in the third, once when he served for the set, and saved two match points in another breaker to push it to a fourth. Both gentlemen -- what else can you call them at the All England Club? -- produced some of the best tennis of the fortnight that set, diving for balls, catching every line, and most importantly never giving up on a point.
Ultimately, though, the inevitable occured. Djokovic got a break early in the last set and never looked back. In three tries, it was his first semifinal victory at Wimbledon, and with it -- on Monday -- he'll become the first non-Rafa, non-Roger #1 since Andy Roddick held the position in 2004.
There were definitely mixed opinions on the switch. Chaztopher tweeted: "Rafa being No. 2 with wins in five of last six majors would be dumber than Wozniacki being No. 1 without any." But robinhosking had just one word (and lot of punctuation): "AJDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Whatever your opinion, you can't deny that Novak Djokovic deserves congratulations. He's pulled off some amazing wins this year, and with just one loss on the books, he's clearly the best player right now.
But it's not over.
Next up Djokovic will face the winner of the second semifinal of the day: Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray -- ironically the same players he faced in his last two Slam championships, with markedly different results. The match makes me a bit nervous, of course, as the Scot/Brit certainly has more than a fair chance of unseating the defending titleist. And personal feelings aside, I can't help but root for a battle between the two top talents in the sport.
And as the latest rivalry emerges in the sport, it sure promises to be a good one.