Novak Djokovic reached a 12th Wimbledon semi-final and record-equalling 46th at the Grand Slams on Tuesday as Elina Svitolina stunned world No 1 Iga Swiatek, delivering an emotional boost for her war-torn Ukraine homeland.
Djokovic, chasing an eighth title at the All England Club and 24th career major, defeated Andrey Rublev 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 and will face Italy’s Jannik Sinner for a place in the final.
The Serb has now reached as many semi-finals at the Slams as the retired Roger Federer.
The 36-year-old, playing in his 400th Grand Slam match, insisted he was enjoying being the man to beat.
“I love it. Any player wants to be in the position where all the other players want to beat you,” he said after preserving his record of not losing on Centre Court since 2013.
“The pressure never goes away every time I come on court.
“They want to get a scalp and the win – but it ain’t happening!”
After dropping the first set, a fired-up Djokovic only allowed Rublev six points in the first five games of the second set.
The champion then needed five set points to claim the third while saving three break points in the same game.
Rublev’s spirit drained away and Djokovic claimed victory with his 42nd winner of the tie.
The Russian world No 7 has now lost all eight quarter-finals he has played at the majors.
“I had these little chances but I didn’t make them. He made them. That’s why he’s Novak, one of the greatest players in history,” he said.
‘I’ll have a beer’
Svitolina, the world No 76, who gave birth last October and only returned to the tour in April, stunned US Open and French Open champion Swiatek in her quarter-final 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
Svitolina, already a semi-finalist in 2019, will take on Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic for a place in Saturday’s championship match.
Unseeded Vondrousova made the last four by seeing off fourth-ranked Jessica Pegula 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
Svitolina, playing on a wild card, has reached the semi-finals by seeing off a quartet of Grand Slam title winners in Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin, Victoria Azarenka, in a stormy last-16 clash, and now Swiatek.
She said she intended to “enjoy the moment and have a beer”.
“If you had told me before the tournament I would get to the semi-finals, I’d say you were crazy,” said Svitolina, who also made the last eight at the French Open last month.
She could have had the match wrapped up in straight sets when she led 4-1 in the second-set tiebreaker before Swiatek hit back.
However, the 28-year-old Ukrainian composed herself, racing away to a double break in the decider.
“I told Elina at the net that I am rooting for her. I want to see her win the title,” said Swiatek, who was playing in her first quarter-final at the All England Club.
On Court One, Pegula, still searching for a semi-final place at the majors, led 4-1 in the final set against 42nd-ranked Vondrousova.
But the American was unable to push on as former French Open runner-up Vondrousova stormed back once the roof was closed on the arena.
“I don’t know what happened,” said the 24-year-old winner.
Sinner beat unseeded Russian Roman Safiullin to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.
The Italian eighth seed recovered from a mid-match wobble to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
“It was obviously tough,” said the 21-year-old, who squandered a two-sets-to-love lead against Djokovic in last year’s quarter-final.
Sinner said he would take to the court in his semi-final with a “good mentality”.
“I know Novak hasn’t lost on Centre Court in 10 years so it will be a tough one but maybe it’s my day.”