London: Favourite Novak Djokovic trailed for the first time at this year’s Wimbledon but responded in brutal fashion to beat Andrey Rublev 4-6 6-1 6-4 6-3 to reach the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Inspired seventh seed Rublev snatched the opening set but it was akin to poking a sleeping grizzly bear as Djokovic exacted painful punishment to stay on track for a fifth straight title.
Rublev played some brilliant tennis that would have accounted for pretty much any other player in the world.
But it was not enough to stop the 36-year-old Djokovic reaching his 46th Grand Slam semi-final, equalling the record of eight-time champion Roger Federer.
Second seed Djokovic will face Jannik Sinner in the his 12th Wimbledon semi-final after the Italian also beat a Russian opponent in Roman Safiullin earlier on Tuesday.
When Rublev broke serve in the eighth game courtesy of a couple of beefy forehands and held serve thanks to a Djokovic error to win the opening set it seemed a first win in a Grand Slam quarter-final at the eighth attempt was possible — even against a man without a Centre Court loss for a decade.
But Djokovic quickly reasserted his authority to race through a one-sided second set.
The Serbian was in control as he broke serve early in the third set but Rublev was not done and Djokovic was stretched to his elastic-limbed limits when serving at 5-4, fending off three break points and needing five set points in a sensational game to move within a set of his 33rd successive Wimbledon win.
Briefly deflated, the 25-year-old Rublev fell 3-1 behind in the fourth set and there was no coming back as Djokovic wrapped up the win in his 400th Grand Slam match, a milestone reached only be Federer and Serena Williams.
Sinner beats Safiullin
Eighth seed Jannik Sinner broke new ground at Wimbledon on Tuesday as the Italian powered into the semi-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time with a 6-4 3-6 6-2 6-2 win over big-hitting Russian Roman Safiullin.
The 21-year-old has made the most of a favourable draw at the grasscourt major this year and became the first man to reach the final four without taking on a top 50 opponent since both Boris Becker and Pete Sampras did so in 1995.
The win also meant Sinner became only the third Italian man to make the Wimbledon semis after Nicola Pietrangeli and Matteo Berrettini but he had to overcome a wobble against the inspired Safiullin midway through the contest.
"It means a lot to me. We put a lot of work in, many hours also off the court, a lot of sacrifices for this moment so it means a lot for me and it means a lot to share it with you guys," Sinner said on court.
"It's a nice moment for me. I just try to play my tennis. Every match has a little bit of its own story and obviously I'm very happy to be in the semi-finals." After a high-octane start by both players under the roof on a sometimes slippery Court One, Sinner broke for a 5-4 lead with a barrage of big shots from the baseline and comfortably held serve in the next game to go a set up on Safiullin.
World number 92 Safiullin did not let his optimism dip after surrendering his serve early in the second set and the Wimbledon debutant reeled off five games in a row from 1-3 down to draw level in the match.
"I was a break up in the second set and I got down mentally a bit, so this is a part we're working on a lot," Sinner said. "Obviously happy how I reacted in the next couple of sets and he's a tough player to play against.
"We played each other one year ago in the ATP Cup and it was a tough match. I wish him all the best for this season, because he's going to make a very good one." The slightly-built Sinner continued to exhibit superb ball-striking en route to winning the next set in 34 minutes and the contest was effectively over after he broke for a 4-2 lead in the fourth set, which he won when Safiullin sent a shot wide.
Up next for Sinner is a meeting with holder Novak Djokovic or seventh seed Andrey Rublev.
"I'll go on to the court with a good mentality," Sinner said. "I know Novak hasn't lost on Centre Court in 10 years, so it's going to be a tough one.
"But who knows, maybe it's my day. Andrey will also be playing in the semi-finals for the first time (if he makes it through).
"I'm just trying to rest and enjoy one of my most important matches until now, it's going to be a special moment."