Novak Djokovic overcame Rafael Nadal in another epic Wimbledon semi-final.
The Serbian former world number one will face Kevin Anderson in Sunday’s final after an absorbing 6-4 3-6 7-6 (11/9) 3-6 10-8 victory which took five-and-a-quarter hours.
It was the second longest semi-final in Wimbledon history with the longest, of course, having taken place 24 hours earlier.
The 52nd meeting between these two great rivals was delayed by the six hours and 36 minutes it took Anderson and John Isner to play their match, with Djokovic taking a two-sets-to-one lead before play was suspended just after 11pm on Friday.
Nadal will regret his missed opportunity the night before, when he was in the ascendancy but passed up two set points.
But while Anderson and Isner’s titanic tussle was more an exercise in totting up aces, this was a cast-iron classic.
The Centre Court roof remained closed, and the players carried on where they left off, raising the level of tennis seen at the championships so far by several notches.
The opening game alone, on Nadal’s serve, was 15 minutes of blistering groundstrokes and stunning winners, the Spaniard fending off two break points amid six deuces to eventually hold.
Yet when Djokovic’s serve was placed under scrutiny it promptly caved in, Nadal breaking to 15.
Nadal gifted a break back with a suddenly sloppy service game but when he struck again for 5-3 Djokovic’s frustration boiled over and he began hammering the sole of his shoe with his racket.
Djokovic forced three break points but Nadal hauled himself level and clinched the set with an ace – called out but correctly challenged – to take the match into a decider.
South African Anderson, presumably watching somewhere with his feet up, will have no doubt been pleased.
Nadal faced a break point at 4-3 behind but roared away from trouble with a powerful first serve followed by two vicious, whipped forehand winners.
Djokovic was under the cosh in the next but two booming serves saved two break points and suddenly Nadal found himself at 0-30 as he served to stay in the match.
Once again his first serve was his saviour and the match started to enter prime Anderson-Isner territory.
At 7-7 Djokovic double-faulted for 15-40 but again got out of that hole before a simply sensational forehand winner saved another break point.
The atmosphere, in sharp contrast to Friday’s slug-fest, was electric. Djokovic converted his game point and urged the crowd to its feet, Nadal converted a smash and raised his arms aloft.
Nadal was flagging, though, and it told in the 18th game of a 91-minute final set. Djokovic raced to 40-0 and when his rival’s tired forehand floated long, the 12th seed raised his arms again.
- Press Association