Novak Djokovic said that talking to himself in the mirror when down two sets was the turning point when he beat Jannik Sinner to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals.
The top seed and defending champion, seeking a fourth consecutive SW19 title and seventh overall, went 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 on Center Court.
Serbian Djokovic, 35, will play Next, the British Cameron Norrie.
“He was the best player in the first two sets,” Djokovic said.
“I went out and freshened up, took a bathroom break, had a little pep talk to myself in the mirror, it’s the truth.
“Sometimes in these circumstances, when not a lot of positive things happen for you, sometimes these things are necessary. A little break to try to reorganize thoughts and put it back together.”
Djokovic received a major scare from Italian 10th seed Sinner, who initially rose to the occasion as he attempted to reach a Grand Slam semi-final for the first time.
However, the 20-year-old faded in the final three sets as Djokovic improved after an erratic and subdued opening.
The real Djokovic eventually emerges
There was no hint of the drama to come as Djokovic took a 4-1 lead in the first set and brought back a break point for 5-1, but his level suddenly dropped just as Sinner surged into the match.
Groundstrokes began to fly long and dropped shots were netted or sat up for Sinner to set as the Serb fell two sets behind, at risk of his first Wimbledon loss since retiring from the quarterfinals. 2017 final against Tomas Berdych due to a shoulder injury.
It has been difficult to judge where Djokovic’s game is this year as he did not play the Australian Open and American hard court tour due to his Covid-19 vaccine status.
Having lost to Rafael Nadal in the French Open quarterfinals, he did not play a grass-court warm-up tournament, but reached the quarterfinals here losing just one set.
Perhaps the lack of his usual play had an effect here, and he showed little emotion when he lost serve twice in the first two sets and was outplayed by the more aggressive Sinner.
After his bathroom break at the end of the second set, a more recognizable Djokovic emerged. He began to step on the ball instead of getting behind the baseline, and a break to love for 3-1 gave him a foothold in the match.
At 30-30 in the next game, Sinner scored a doable volley and Djokovic faced the crowd for the first time, waving his arms and encouraging them to make more noise.
Sinner saved two set points at 5-2 down, but Djokovic pulled it off in the next game, losing just five points on serve in the third.
Two double faults from Sinner put Djokovic on his way immediately in the fourth set and then he broke again as he advanced 4-0. The Italian became more competitive towards the end of the set, but had a scare when his left foot slipped while chasing a volley.
He grabbed his ankle and was down for a while, but was able to continue after Djokovic came around the net to check on him and helped him to his feet.
The crowd got behind Sinner and roared in encouragement as he held on at the start of the final set, but a tentative volley and weak shot that both found at the net gave Djokovic a break for 2-1.
There seemed little doubt now about the outcome and Djokovic duly advanced after a spectacular backhand crosscourt winner, which left him sprawling on his chest, was followed by a wild volley from Sinner on match point.
Djokovic said his “pep talk” at the end of the second set was entirely “positive.”
He added: “As negative and depressed as you feel in those moments, even if it seems fake or sounds to you, it really gives you an effect and support if you’re trying to find the right and positive affirmations and say them to yourself and kind of lift yourself up. yourself in some way.
“So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve done it after losing two sets in finals.  Roland Garros vs. [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, and today it worked. It doesn’t always work. It’s not a guarantee that it will always work.”
Sinner falls short but shows high-level potential
Sinner has been seen for a while as one of the most talented young players in the men’s game, though more recently there has been an increased focus on Carlos Alcaraz, whom he beat in four sets in the round of 16 on Sunday.
He came into Wimbledon, where he had never won a match before this year, with little outside expectation, having withdrawn from his French Open fourth-round match against Andrey Rublev with a knee injury. He then lost his only match at Eastbourne to Tommy Paul.
However, he had eliminated three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka and John Isner before Alcaraz on his way to the last 16, where he faced the ultimate challenge of playing the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
Sinner got off to a nervous start, making seven unforced errors in the first five games before narrowly avoiding falling behind by a double break.
When Djokovic’s errors brought him back the break, he took it as a cue to go on the offensive, coming in at the baseline and dictating rallies with flat groundstrokes into the corners.
Djokovic had to save a break point at 4-4 but couldn’t resist the next time, Sinner deflected a punch and then slammed a forehand out of reach to move 6-5 up before serving out the set.
He carried the momentum into the second, an overhand backhand volley that drew huge cheers followed by a first break.
By now, Djokovic was under pressure every time he served and a successful challenge from a return that landed down the line gave the Italian daylight on the scoreboard, with four points in a row from 0-30 down securing two sets to- . love lead.
Ultimately he couldn’t keep up that standard, or Djokovic wouldn’t let him, but Sinner showed he can mix it up with the big boys when it matters most.
Of his opponent, Djokovic said: “I feel like Sinner, going into the match, didn’t have a lot to lose, but he had a lot to lose when he had two sets to love. I could feel that mentally with him.
“So I’m sure he’ll get better as time goes on, because he’s a fantastic player and mentally very present, dedicated and professional. We’ll see him on the big stage a lot for sure.”
Sinner said: “I was playing well, and he raised his level during the fourth, and I think in the fifth I played the right way, I missed the final shots.
“I think I can be proud of what I’ve done here. I hope he can give me a lot of confidence.”