LONDON // A Wimbledon that will live long in the memory produced one of the championships’ finest ever matches as Novak Djokovic edged past Juan Martin del Potro in a record-breaking semi-final on Friday.
Astonishing, phenomenal, compelling, the Centre Court clash stretched to four hours and 44 minutes, knocking the 1989 last-four clash between Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl out of the record books.
Despite a mammoth fight from Del Potro, the world No 1 Djokovic came out on top as he seeks a second Wimbledon title.
Towering Argentine Del Potro impressively fought back after Djokovic edged the first set and repeated the trick to take the match through to a deciding set.
Djokovic eventually eked out a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 victory to put a seventh grand slam crown within striking distance.
“It was one of the best matches I have been involved with. One of the most exciting, definitely,” Djokovic said. “It was so close, really. I couldn’t separate us except when I was 2-1, a set up and a break, but I dropped that serve.”
The 2009 US Open champion Del Potro was bidding to get back in a grand slam final for the first time since his run in New York, and Djokovic knew he was facing a scrap.
“But, look, that is why he is a grand slam champion. That is why he is right at the top because every time he is in a tough situation he comes up with some unbelievable shots,” Djokovic told the BBC.
“I didn’t think I played badly when I was match point up in the tiebreak, I just maybe should have stepped in and been more aggressive. But credit to him for fighting and I am just very proud to go through.”
Coming into the semi-final, neither man had dropped a set in the tournament and it showed from the outset.
Aside from heavy strapping, Del Potro was showing few signs of the knee injury that resurfaced early in his quarter-final win over David Ferrer. His rocket of a forehand was causing Djokovic problems, but the top seed turned it on decisively against the serve in the 12th game just as the opening set looked poised to be decided on a tiebreak.
Many would have faded away at that point, but not Del Potro.
He had to be at his gutsy best to recover four break points in the sixth game of the second set, and that determination immediately reaped rewards.
The noise on Centre Court ratcheted up a few notches as the 24-year-old Argentine returned a seemingly impossible drop shot, putting him on course to break the Serb’s serve for the first time in the match and go on to take the second set.
Djokovic was making more unforced errors than in any of his previous matches here. On the other side of the net Del Potro was playing solidly and earned two break points in the seventh game of the third set. He fluffed his lines and allowed Djokovic to hold serve but he was struggling to break down his opponent.
Djokovic then secured three set points in the 12th game of that third set, only for Del Potro to come storming back and force a tiebreak.
A slight dip from Del Potro allowed Djokovic to take the set 7-6 (7/2) and regain control of the match.
It looked all over for the world No 8 when Djokovic broke for 4-3 in the fourth set.
Yet again, though, Del Potro showed incredible fighting spirit to hit straight back as the set went to another tiebreak.
This time the 6ft 8in man from Tandil produced more heroics, recovering from two match points down to take the match into a deciding set.
Nobody inside Centre Court could quite believe it and Djokovic had to dig deep in the fifth game to deny Del Potro.
The South American saved a break point in the following game, with some sloppy play from Djokovic helping. There were some astonishing rallies but Del Potro was visibly tiring and he allowed Djokovic two break points, the Serbian converting the second for 5-3.
It allowed the top seed to serve for the match and, having saved a break point, he secured his place in the final, in a match that comes its finale was 43 minutes longer than the Becker-Lendl clash.
Andy Murray was able to embrace the joy of reaching a second consecutive Wimbledon final as he powered past Jerzy Janowicz under the Centre Court roof.
The world number two argued vehemently with tournament referee Andrew Jarrett when the decision was made to shut the roof because of darkness at the start of the fourth set.
After dropping the opener against 6ft 8in Pole Janowicz, Murray had turned things around and did not want his momentum to be disrupted when he felt there was enough light left.
But he need not have worried, playing an exceptional set indoors to win 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 and set up a third final in four grand slams against Djokovic.
Last year there were tears as Murray defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to become the first British man to make the singles final in 74 years, but here the emotions were less of relief and more delight.
Recalling last year, he said: "I'd played three semis in a row. It was the first time I'd been through to the final, so there were a mixture of emotions.
"I was very relieved after the semis last year, whereas this year I think I was a bit happier to have won the match. It wasn't as much of a release after the match.
"Last year I think there was a lot of tension in my semi-final match, whereas today it wasn't quite the same. I've got to a position I've been in before. Last year it was completely new to me."
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