Roger Federer yesterday gained revenge over Rafael Nadal 11 years on to set up a Wimbledon final showdown with Novak Djokovic today.
A rematch of Federer and Nadal’s classic 2008 title decider, won in five pulsating sets by the Spaniard, had been anticipated more than any match for years at the All England Club — and it did not disappoint.
The final stages were full of tension and drama, with Nadal saving four match points but, after three hours and two minutes, it was Federer, a month shy of his 38th birthday, who clinched a 7-6 (3) 1-6 6-3 6-4 victory and the chance to take on defending champion Djokovic.
Should he win, it would give the ageless Swiss man a ninth Wimbledon title and take him to 21 grand slam trophies, three ahead of Nadal and six clear of Djokovic.
Federer said: “Key moments went my way and that made the difference today. It was very cool to play Rafa here after so long and it lived up to the hype.
“The climax at the end, with a crazy last game, it had everything, which was great, I guess.
“I’m relieved it’s over — but it’s going to be one of my favourite matches to look back on.”
Nadal was gracious in defeat, and said: “It’s been a tough one. I had my chances. He played a little bit better than me, I think. I probably didn’t play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserved it. Congratulations to him.”
The Centre Court crowd are likely to be fiercely pro-Federer after Djokovic fell out with them during his semi-final.
The world number one booked a place in his sixth final with a 6-2 4-6 6-3 6-2 win over Roberto Bautista Agut, but he was in a tetchy mood with the spectators.
He baited them on several occasions, first ironically throwing his hands up when they cheered the Spaniard winning the second set, then shushing them by putting his finger against his lips before cupping his ear after winning a 45-shot rally on break point.
The 32-year-old knows he will be in a similar position again when he faces Federer, but says he is not affected by it. “Look, I am focused on what I need to do,” Djokovic said.
“At times they wanted him to come back to the match, maybe take a lead because he was an underdog in the match. I understand that.
“But I had enough support here over the years, so I don’t complain.
It won’t be the first time playing against Federer on the Centre Court. I’ve had that experience more than once. I know what to expect.
Meanwhile Simona Halep is confident she can upset the odds against Serena Williams and land a first Wimbledon title.
The numbers do not stack up in the Romanian’s favour ahead of today’s Saturday’s final, with Williams gunning for an eighth title and a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles win.
Halep has one grand slam to her name, the French Open last year, and has beaten Williams only once in 10 meetings, losing the last six.
Williams, 37, was close to her ruthless best when dispatching Barbora Strycova 6-1 6-2 in the semi-final.
But Halep was almost as impressive in her 6-1 6-3 win over Elina Svitolina and the seventh seed says she is ready to grasp her big opportunity.
She said: “Everything is possible. That’s why I started to believe more that even if I play on grass, I have my chance to win.
“I’m in the final, so I will not put pressure on myself. I just want to plan how I have to play in the final, and then enjoy.
“I’m desperate to win Wimbledon more than to stop her. I will focus on myself. I’m not thinking about her record. Of course, her records are huge already.
“But it’s not about that. It’s just a tennis match, a big challenge, a great match. So I will try just to give my best.”
Halep’s only success against Williams was a 6-0 6-2 win in the round-robin stages of the 2014 WTA Finals in Singapore.
Yet that defeat still rankles with the American, who is taking nothing for granted as she attempts to pull level with Margaret Court’s record tally of grand slam titles.
“There’s so many impressive things about her,” said Williams.
I think obviously her tenacity. I think her ability to improve every time, just to keep improving. Her ability to find power. You can’t underestimate her. She’s like a little powerhouse.
“She finished the year as number one twice in a row. I feel like she’s back. She wants to prove that she can do it again.
“I think the biggest key with our matches is the loss that I had. I never forgot it. She played unbelievable.
“That makes me know that level she played at, she can get there again. So I have to be better than that.”