LONDON Top seed Novak Djokovic has tackled innocence and now faces experience at Wimbledon after beating young pretender Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the final against seven-times champion Roger Federer.
The Serb was in self-critical mood on Friday after he allowed Dimitrov, playing his first grand slam semi-final, to push him to four tense sets on Centre Court.
"I was frustrated because I, again, allowed my opponent to come back into the match ... I was a set and a break up and, again, made some unforced errors and gave my opponent a hope that he could win.
"That's something that I definitely cannot allow myself in the final against Roger. They have a similar game, so it was good to play a longer match and to understand the way I need to prepare for Roger."
It was the third time during the tournament that Djokovic, who came through 6-4 3-6 7-6(2) 7-6(7) on Friday, had been taken to four sets.
"I have been going through some tough matches during this tournament," he said. "I'm going to try to use that experience in a positive way and encourage myself to get a title."
Also playing on the 27-year-old Serb's mind is the fact that he has only one title to show for his four most recent appearances in major finals.
"Losing three out of my past four grand slam finals, it cannot be satisfying," he said. "I should have won a few of the matches I lost in finals over the past couple of years."
The 32-year-old Federer has an 18-16 advantage in matches against Djokovic and has beaten the Serb twice in the past five months. Their only meeting at Wimbledon, in the 2012 semi-finals, also went the way of the Swiss maestro.
But Djokovic does have the 2011 Wimbledon title under his belt, plus five other grand slam triumphs.
On Friday he drew on all the experience gleaned in his 22 previous major semi-finals to get the better of Dimitrov, who was on a roll after winning the pre-Wimbledon tournament at Queen's Club and downing third-seeded champion Andy Murray in the quarter-finals.
Djokovic started smoothly against the 23-year-old Bulgarian dubbed Baby Fed for expansive shot-making reminiscent of Federer, breaking serve in the fifth game before wrapping up the opening set in only 27 minutes.
Last year's runner-up looked to be cruising when he broke again in the third game of the second set. But Dimitrov, watched anxiously by girlfriend and former champion Maria Sharapova, upped the tempo to reel off five successive games to draw level.
"It's understanding, identifying where the problem is, you know; pushing for it, working on it ... You have to be able to be at the top of your game, mentally fresh and motivated, calm and composed," Djokovic said.
Two more gladiatorial sets followed, both requiring tiebreaks to separate the combatants.
With the match on a knife-edge, it was Djokovic who found the extra grit. He saved a set point in the ninth game of the fourth set and three in the tiebreak before sealing victory with a crosscourt forehand winner.
He will need that mental toughness against 17-times grand slam champion Federer on Sunday.
"The key against him is to not allow him to dictate too much, because he likes to be very aggressive, he likes to come to the net," Djokovic said.
(Editing by David Goodman)