London (AFP) – Novak Djokovic admits his first final in a year will be a “special moment” as the former world number one prepares to face Marin Cilic in the Queen’s Club title match.
Djokovic has endured a barren 12 months due to a combination of a nagging elbow injury last year and poor form in 2018.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion is more accustomed to fighting for the sport’s biggest prizes.
But, in a sign of how far he has fallen, Djokovic claimed reaching the final of the Wimbledon warm-up event at Queen’s is a significant milestone on his road to recovery.
Not since he won the grass-court event at Eastbourne 12 months ago has Djokovic made it to the last day of a tournament.
So the 31-year-old’s 7-6 (7/5,) 6-4 victory over France’s Jeremy Chardy in the semi-finals meant a lot to the Serb.
“It feels great, first one since Eastbourne. So it’s been a year. It is a special moment for me,” he said.
“Obviously I have been hoping to get here and working hard for it.
“So now that I get a chance to fight for a trophy in one of the biggest tournaments on the grass court season, it means a lot to me.
“I’m really pleased with the way I have played throughout the whole week.”
Amid repeated suggestions he had lost his desire for success since completing his career Grand Slam at the 2016 French Open, Djokovic has seemed to be searching for motivation in recent months.
He has played his way back into form with four successive wins in his first appearance at Queen’s since 2010.
He traditionally opts to play only exhibition matches before Wimbledon, but the lawns of Barons Court have proved reinvigorating.
– Stern test –
With Wimbledon starting on July 2, Djokovic is relishing the prospect of going into a tournament he has won three times with a trophy under his belt.
Given his 14-1 career record against Cilic, he will be favoured to beat the Croatian top seed.
But Cilic has been in superb form this week and Djokovic knows he will pose a stern test on Sunday.
“It’s quite different playing him on grass,” he said.
We have played in Wimbledon, but he’s just a different player, I think.
“In last couple of years he’s been in the form of his life and reaching his highest ranking in a career. And finals of Wimbledon, finals of Australian Open.
“You know, he’s probably been playing the best that he’s ever played. Grass court suits him very well. He just has a big game overall.”
Cilic won 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3) in the other semi-final against Australia’s Nick Kyrgios.
Now the former US Open champion is hoping to go one better after losing the Queen’s final to Feliciano Lopez 12 months ago.
That match was decided by a final set tie-break and the 2012 Queen’s winner is determined to make amends.
“The motivation is still there, it’s quite big. It’s a 500 (points) and big tournament to get ready for Wimbledon,” he said.
“I don’t have regrets for last year, if that’s what you’re asking.
“I gave it my best on the court. My match was decided by one point. Feliciano played amazing tennis.
“You know, it’s great for me again that I’m here and giving myself another shot.”