LONDON: Novak Djokovic ended his final drought as the former world number one reached his first title match for a year with a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 win against Jeremy Chardy at Queen’s Club on Saturday.
Djokovic will play top seed Marin Cilic on Sunday in the Serb’s first final since he won the grass-court tournament at Eastbourne 12 months ago.
It will be Djokovic’s first appearance in the Queen’s title match since he was beaten by Rafael Nadal in his only previous final at the Wimbledon warm-up event in 2008.
The 31-year-old’s 99th career final offers him the chance to move above Stefan Edberg into sole possession of ninth place in the all-time match wins list on 802.
“It was very pleasing to go through to the final. It’s been a while since I’ve played for a title so it’s a special moment considering what I have been through,” Djokovic said.
“It’s a great occasion. I would lie if I say I wasn’t ambitious coming into the tournament so I’m hoping I can go all the way.”
Asked how he would cope with Cilic’s power serves, Djokovic joked: “I will play with two racquets! One in the right hand and one in the left hand!”
After such a turbulent period since he was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon with an elbow injury last year, Djokovic may be rounding into form just in time for his return to the All England Club.
Djokovic is a lowly 22nd in the ATP rankings after an embarrassing French Open quarter-final defeat against Italian journeyman Marco Cecchinato extended his wretched run in 2018.
He hasn’t earned a major title since competing his career Grand Slam by winning the 2016 French Open.
Dogged by rumours that he no longer has the motivation to return to the top, the 12-time Grand Slam winner decided to start his bid for a fourth Wimbledon crown by accepting a Queen’s wild card.
It has proved a wise move as success on the lawns of Barons Court has often been a springboard for a strong Wimbledon campaign for Andy Murray.
And, after recording four successive wins at Queen’s, Djokovic will hope he can copy his rival’s trend when Wimbledon gets underway on July 2.
Chardy had won 12 of his previous 13 matches, but that purple patch inevitably came to an end as soon as the world number 61 was confronted by his long-time tormenter.
Djokovic had won all 10 of their encounters without dropping a single one of their 24 sets.
Maintaining his domination of Chardy, Djokovic set up another so far one-sided match-up against Cilic, who has lost 14 of their 15 meetings.
Cilic slugged his way into a fourth Queen’s final as the Croatian won the battle of the big servers with a 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4) victory over Nick Kyrgios.
Cilic, 29, is bidding to win Queen’s for the second time after lifting the trophy in 2012 and finishing as runner-up in 2013 and 2017.
It will be Cilic’s second final of 2018 following his defeat against Roger Federer at the Australian Open in January.
The world number six, who was also beaten by Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, lost the ace race against Kyrgios, with the Australian hitting 16 to Cilic’s 11.
But former US Open champion Cilic held his nerve in two tie-breaks and punished a handful of key errors from Kyrgios.
“It’s so special to play here. I’ve played great tennis throughout this week and have another shot at the title,” Cilic said.
“Nick is serving so good so it was tough to get any break points. I was maybe a bit more lucky in those situations and composed.
“I’ll be ready for the final, I’m definitely going to give my best for a trophy.”