Commentary

Novak Djokovic clearly off his game

Updated: July 6, 2012, 7:44 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- After Friday's semifinals at Wimbledon, men's tennis is guaranteed a third different winner at a major in 2012.

You'll know the names in the final, though.

Roger Federer took out defending champion Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to set up a blockbuster against Andy Murray, who ousted the entertaining but erratic Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

As Federer seeks to win his 17th major and tie Pete Sampras for weeks at No. 1 in the rankings, Murray tries to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a Grand Slam title.

Suffice to say, he'll have more pressure, even if Federer is the favorite.

Here are five takeaways from Friday:

1. Djokovic not himself

51. 48. 55. 50. 40. 39. 46. 57. 54. 53.

No, it's not the combination to a secret vault; it's the percentage of points won by Federer on his second serve against Djokovic in their 10 most recent matches prior to Wimbledon.

The number rose to 72 on Friday, a considerable improvement.

"He served well," Djokovic said. "High percentage of first serves and really good precision, and he was aggressive on his second as well."

Federer did, indeed, fire on his serve, and the surface undoubtedly played a role in their first meeting on grass. His average second-serve speed elevated from the quarterfinals.

But it was clear that Djokovic, considered one of the game's best returners, was not himself. If Federer was as aggressive as Djokovic felt he was on the second serve, logic would dictate that a few double faults would result. They didn't. Federer hit none.

In Federer's first four service games, Djokovic led 0-15 thrice. On two of the three ensuing points, he had a look at second serves but never escalated to 0-30.

"I had bad last couple of days," Djokovic said. "Last five, six days, I wasn't feeling great. But I don't want to talk about it now."

Federer, for the record, has been dealing with a bad back.

He got through it.

2. Federer more aggressive

Did Djokovic hand the match to Federer? Of course not. That would be a significant stretch.

Federer deserved the win not only because he executed but also because he was the more aggressive player. When Federer missed almost identical forehands on break points in the third set, it seemed like Djokovic would take advantage.

Yet Federer's shoulders didn't slump, as has happened in the past. There was no pondering the past two U.S. Open semis, where Djokovic saved match points to triumph and inflict serious woe on the Swiss.

Federer struck more baseline winners (13 to 9), a surprise, and made fewer unforced errors. He also won a pivotal battle of overheads in the final game of the second.

An area of concern, however, remains Federer's net play. He won a mere 13 of 25 net points.

3. Good matchup for Murray

Murray loves a target -- and he'll take opponents who give away points. Tsonga fits the description.

When he is in the mood, Tsonga is unplayable. However, playing at the consistently high level required in a best-of-five-set match in a Grand Slam semifinal was always going to be too much for the Frenchman. Sure, Tsonga rallied from two sets down to defeat Federer at Wimbledon last year, but Federer isn't the defender that Murray is. The Scot made Tsonga hit more balls, and Tsonga grew impatient.

In confronting Tsonga, Murray could do something he likes -- simply react and wait for those errors.

Tsonga was broken in the first set from 30-0 and broken in the second after he went from 15-40 to game point. With his morale sapping, his flashy all-court game gave him a lifeline. Yet at 4-4 and holding break point in the fourth, his return off a hanging second serve sailed long.

The Frenchman finished with 42 unforced errors. Murray, Federer and Djokovic hit a combined 43 Friday.

4. Too late to apologize

There was a nice handshake at the net between Federer and Djokovic when it ended, though not as cordial as Tsonga-Murray. But for those who think Federer isn't a huge fan of Djokovic, there was some proof in the second set.

After a mishit cross-court forehand return winner at 2-4, Federer did not apologize. Had Federer's opponent been Rafael Nadal, not Djokovic, you'd have expected some kind of gesture.

Djokovic, meanwhile, gestured in the third set when his backhand pass clipped the top of the tape and put Federer off. Another came in the fourth.

5. Lendl should be proud

Now here was a bit of Ivan Lendl's no-holds-barred demeanor rubbing off on Murray.

Lendl was known for drilling his opponents, and Murray nailed Tsonga where the sun don't shine in the third set. Murray was chasing a drop volley and, in truth, probably had nowhere else to go. Murray isn't as nasty as Lendl was.

A delayed reaction from Tsonga followed. He began walking back to the baseline to serve only to fall to his knees and stay there for several seconds.

Murray did apologize.

If Murray or Federer sinks to his knees Sunday, it will most likely be in celebration.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.