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.
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 just across the River Thames 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.
With Chardy’s serve unbroken en route to the last four and Djokovic having lost just one service game, it was no surprise the first set went to a tie-break without a break point for either player.
Djokovic finally found a chink in Chardy’s armour as he edged ahead to take the breaker.
A tense clash reached boiling point early in the second set when Djokovic complained angrily after he was ruled to have touched the net while hitting a winner — forcing the umpire to give the point to Chardy.
Djokovic channelled his rage effectively, breaking Chardy for the first time in the ninth game before serving out his long-awaited semi-final victory.
Earlier, 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.”