Roger Federer scored a four-set triumph over long-time rival Rafael Nadal on Friday to progress to a 12th Wimbledon final.
In a re-match of their storied 2008 final at the All England Club, Federer overcame the Spaniard 7-6(3) 1-6 6-3 6-4 in the semis to book a clash with another great rival in Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic beat Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2 4-6 6-3 6-2 in the day’s first semifinal.
“It’s always very, very cool to play against Rafa here, especially haven’t played in so long,” Federer said.
“It lived up to the hype, especially from coming out of the gates, we were both playing very well. Then the climax at the end with the crazy last game, some tough rallies there. It had everything at the end, which was great, I guess. I’m just relieved it’s all over.
“But it’s definitely, definitely going to go down as one of my favourite matches to look back at, again, because it’s Rafa, it’s at Wimbledon, the crowds were into it, great weather.
“I felt like I played good also throughout the four sets. I can be very happy.”
Federer has now won six of his past seven meetings with Nadal, and three of their four at the All England Club. After trailing the head-to-head series 10-23 in 2015, the Swiss has narrowed the margin to 16-24.
In the thrillingly tense final stages of the fourth set, the quality of tennis was stunning as the No.2 seed earned multiple match points, only for Nadal to save them with daring play. Federer finally converted his fifth to end the highly-anticipated clash.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 12, 2019
“I’m exhausted,” Federer told the BBC as he came off court.
“It was tough at the end – Rafa played some unbelievable shots to stay in the match. I had spells where I was really serving very well. I thought probably the biggest points in the match went my way. (There were) long rallies; he plays with such velocity and spin, you’re never sure if you’re going to connect properly.
“The first set was huge – to get the lead, try to protect it.
“I just thought it was a joy to play today.”
Federer goes into Sunday’s decider as the underdog, having lost eight of their past 10 meetings with Djokovic and their past four matches at Grand Slams.
The last time he overcame Djokovic at a major tournament was in the Wimbledon semifinals of 2012.
#Wimbledon Final:  @DjokerNole vs.  @RogerFederer XLVIII
Djokovic 25-22 H2H (RF 70-67 Sets)
Djokovic 12-6 Finals
Djokovic 9-6 Grand Slams
Djokovic 2-1 @Wimbledon
2015 F: Djokovic 7-6 6-7 6-4 6-3
2014 F: Djokovic 6-7 6-4 7-6 5-7 6-4
2012 SF: Federer 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-3
— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) July 12, 2019
“He played great against Bautista Agut, who played a great tournament. Novak was supreme again. He’s the defending champion and he showed why this week – he’s been rock-solid,” Federer observed.
“Hopefully I can push him to the brink and beat him. But it’s gonna be very difficult, he’s not No.1 by chance, he’s been so good for the last year.
“I’m very, very excited, to say the least.”
The opening set was dominated by the serve. Break points were almost impossible to come by; Federer earned the only one of the set in the eighth game when Nadal pushed a backhand long, but in the thrilling rally that ensued, the Swiss netted a backhand, and Nadal eventually held to level at 4-4.
Fed misses the first break point of the match.
In 2008 final, he was 1/13.
— Charlie Eccleshare (@CDEccleshare) July 12, 2019
A tiebreak followed, where twice the Spaniard went up a mini-break, only for Federer to immediately erase those advantages.
With his return of serve getting better and better, Federer from 2-3 down reeled off five straight points thanks to aggressive, free-flowing play to take a one-set lead.
As is customary, Nadal responded strongly. But few foresaw just how dominant he would be, or how much Federer’s game would tail off as the second set unfolded.
The Swiss looked almost certain to go ahead an early break, when, after cracking some sweetly timed backhands, he earned a 15-40 lead in the third game.
Yet Nadal won four straight points to hold serve, broke his wayward opponent at love in the very next game, and went on to win 20 of the last 23 points of the set.
That lapse was, thankfully for Federer, momentary. And by the fourth game of the third set, the Swiss veteran was back to his best.
He struck a backhand winner down the line to draw level with Nadal at 30-30, fired a running forehand winner to get to 30-40, then won a thrilling point with a backhand volley to score his first service break of the match and a 3-1 lead.
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) July 12, 2019
When Nadal moved ahead 15-40 to earn two break points in the following game, an increasingly confident Federer outlasted Nadal in a succession of searching rallies to extend his lead to 4-1.
More winners flowed as he served out the third set.
When Federer skipped around a backhand and played a forehand winner en route to another service break in the third game, Nadal looked deflated.
The Spaniard’s game was increasingly littered with tired-looking errors and he allowed Federer the space and time he needed to dictate.
The second seed looked set to complete a commanding victory when he pushed ahead 5-3 and earned two match points when Nadal was serving in the ninth game. But Nadal dug in, and in an increasingly dramatic deuce-ad-deuce-ad battle, he held serve to force Federer to serve it out.
Here, the contest, and the atmosphere inside Centre Court, ramped up.
Nadal’s intensity had returned and when Federer botched an overhead, Nadal had a break point to level scores at 5-5.
Federer won an incredibly tense point to get scores to deuce, but despite arriving at match point on two more occasions, Nadal would not surrender.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 12, 2019
An off-forehand winner from Federer brought up a fifth, and that was enough.
“Probably I didn’t play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserve it. Congrats to him,” Nadal said.
“I think his return was better than my one this afternoon. I didn’t receive well today.
“I think today the backhand didn’t work as good as in the previous rounds. I was not able to move with freedom to the forehand (because) I was a little bit too worried about not missing with the backhand.
“When that happens against player like him, is so difficult … I think he played aggressive. He was doing a lot of things well. He plays very inside the court. He’s not giving you sometimes time to open the court.
“Honestly, I didn’t had that great feelings that I had the other days, no? When I was hitting the ball with the forehand, especially with the backhand, I was not able to open the court as the other days.
“You will not make him miss for speed of the ball. You need to make him miss because you put him out of position, no? Probably I didn’t hit the ball enough clean to make that happen this afternoon.”
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