Novak Djokovic got the better of old foe Rafael Nadal 10-8 in a deciding-set thriller to reach his fifth Wimbledon final, where he will take on Kevin Anderson.
The 12-time Grand Slam winner, who lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 2011, 2014 and 2015, is back in a major final for the first time since the 2016 US Open
Nadal and Djokovic had fallen foul of the 11pm curfew on Friday night with the Serb leading by two sets to one, becoming the first match since the Centre Court roof was added in 2009 to be stopped due to the strict curfew imposed by Merton Council to avoid disruption to local residents.
The match got back underway just after 1pm under the roof again, as those were the conditions in which it began, and three-time former champion Djokovic came good to make it through to Sunday’s final with a thrilling 6-4 3-6 7-6 (11-9) 3-6 10-8 victory in the second longest semi-final ever played at Wimbledon, just a day after Anderson and John Isner had set the record for the longest.
“It’s hard to pick the words. I’m just going through things, flashbacks to the last 15 months, everything I’ve been through to get here,” said world No 21 Djokovic, the lowest ranked finalist in 15 years. “To win against the best player in the world, in one of the longest matches I ever played, I’m just overwhelmed.
“It’s very special. It really could have gone either way. It was clear very few things separated us.”
Nadal held firm in a mammoth opening game of the fourth set, being forced to come through six deuces and save two break points.
World No 1 Nadal, the champion in 2008 and 2010, then stepped up a gear in the next game to grab the initiative, but Djokovic, who was seeking a spot in his 22nd final at majors, was flourishing in the fast conditions and did not take long to restore parity with a break back in the fifth game.
The pair’s 52nd meeting was turning into another rip-roaring encounter as Nadal broke again in the eighth game, while Djokovic was punished for taking only one of his six break point opportunities in the set, with the Spaniard soon dragging it into a deciding set shoot-out thanks to an ace, which was called out but on review had kissed the line.
Nadal, chasing an 18th Grand Slam crown and in his first Wimbledon semi-final since finishing runner-up to Djokovic in 2011, was under pressure playing catch-up in the fifth and was forced to save a break point in the eighth game thanks to his sledgehammer forehand.
Djokovic stayed calm and showed plenty of courage and determination to come from 15-40 down by winning four straight points to move 5-4 up.
Nadal had an extra spring in his step and threw the kitchen sink at his opponent in the 15th game. Djokovic felt the pinch but still conjured up some magical shots under mounting pressure to come through five deuces and save three break points to hold for 8-7 in another epic game.
A delicious drop shot from Nadal helped him save a match point chance in the next game before he pounded a much-needed ninth ace to level things up, but just a couple of games later the Serb completed the job by breaking to love after five hours and 17 minutes over two days to end things.