For the second time this summer Novak Djokovic is just one match away from becoming the highest-ranked tennis player on the planet, and this time Roger Federer is not nearby to slam the door in his face.
If Djokovic beats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in theirWimbledon semi-final this afternoon, he will become the first person in seven years to hold the No 1 ranking not called Roger or Rafa. He does not even need to win the final.
Ever since the Fed Express rolled over Andy Roddick in Feb 2004, Federer and Rafael Nadalhave shared the spoils. In total Federer spent 285 weeks as world No 1, just one short of equalling Pete Sampras's record. Nadal took the Swiss's place in Aug 2008, lost it a year later, then reclaimed it in 2010.
But now Djokovic is just a few split-steps from the summit thanks to his incredible surge this season. The 24-year-old Serb put together the best start to a season for almost 30 years, his undefeated sequence falling one short of equalling John McEnroe's record of opening 1984 with 42 wins.
Djokovic was poised to become No 1 at theFrench Open in June, but Federer kicked red clay in his eyes in the semis, his only loss in 2011.
His latest opportunity comes against an interloper. Tsonga, the 12th seed, is crashing the party that everyone supposed was reserved for the world's top four players. More prizefighter than tennis player, Tsonga has played Djokovic twice in grand slams, on hard courts, and lost both, including the 2008 Australian Open final. Not that it means Tsonga will be easy; for not only is it a different surface, it is also a different Tsonga.
Djokovic knows from personal experience what defeating Federer on Centre Court in the Wimbledon quarters can do for a man's confidence. Djokovic ran into Tomas Berdych at the same stage last year after the Czech had seen off the six-time champion and came away with a bloody nose.
"I'm aware of the importance of every match, and I'm close to being No 1," Djokovic said. "But I try not to think about it too much as I expect an even match on Friday. We are both baseline players and a lot will depend on our serves."
Tsonga has matured and with the improved temperament has come a cannon serve which - so far - has been even stronger on pressure points. Federer managed only one break point in their entire five-set contest.
"I have improved a lot mentally," said Tsonga, 26. "I played three years not far from the top 10, or in the top 10, and now I want more."
Djokovic might have something to say about that.
Courtesy: The Independent