Roger Federer triumphed in a classic four-set struggle on Friday over fellow tennis icon Rafael Nadal as the eight-time Wimbledon champion moved into a 12th Wimbledon final and a date with Novak Djokovic.
But not before a fighting Nadal saved four match points as Federer battled to serve out a 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in a shade more than three hours.
The second seed finally sealed his finals spot on his fifth match point when Nadal fired long over the baseline.
“I’m exhausted, it was tough at the end,” Federer said. “Rafa played unbelievable”
“This match was played at a very high level, against Rafa it’s always special.
“Today, the biggest points seemed to go my way. We had tight games and long rallies, he plays with so much spin and velocity that you’re never sure on the return.
“It was huge in the first set to get the lead ans then try to protect it. It was just a joy to play today.”
Federer, with eight trophies at the All England Club and the all-time leading 20 Grand Slam honours overall, took late revenge for his 2008 finals loss here to Nadal – which has been rated as one of the greatest matches ever played.
Federer and Nadal clashed for the 40th time, with the Spaniard still owning an overall lead of 24-16.
The contest on grass was a re-match of a Roland Garros semi-final a month ago where Nadal triumphed.
Djokovic reached a second straight final here as he defeated Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, taking five match points to get over the line in two hours, 49 minutes.
The Serb ATP No. 1 had defeated Federer in Wimbledon finals in 2014 and 2015 after the Swiss took victory here in a 2012 semi-final.
The upcoming Sunday match will mark the 22nd occasion that a Grand Slam final has been contested by any two from Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.
It will happen for the seventh time at Wimbledon between a pair of players with 35 Grand Slam titles between them.
Federer claimed the opening set in a tiebreaker before losing his way in the second set as Nadal levelled at one each.
But Federer quickly rediscovered his devastating for in the third and re-established a narrow superiority, earning a 4-1 lead after saving three break points in the fifth game as his attacking strategy paid off well.
Federer broke in the fourth set for 3-1 but had to hold on as Nadal salvaged four straight break points before finally secumbing.
Against Djokovic, Bautista Agut missed the chance to become the third Spanish man in history to reach the final here final after Manuel Santana and Nadal.
Djokovic’s victory was his 12 of his last 13 Grand Slam semis and put him into a sixth Wimbledon final.
“I had to dig deep. It’s the semi-finals and Roberto was not overwhelmed,” the winner said.
“My main motivation is really to be out on the court and enjoy what I do, this is essential.
“Of course, I am looking to make history in this sport.”
Federer defeated Nadal for Wimbledon trophies in 2006 and 0207 but lost to his main rival in the 2008 edition.
That final ended in conditions so dark that the ball could barely be seen.and three and three-quarter hours of struggle – the longest Wimbledon final ever.
Djokovic was quietly confident after reaching his 25th final at a Grand Slam, as he aims for a fifth at Wimbledon.
“This has been a dream tournament for me, to be in another final is special,” he said.
“Playing a final at Wimbledon is something different, I will enjoy the experience again.”
The top seed said he passed a test against an inspired opponent.
“In the first set he was probably managing his serve and made a few uncharacteristic unforced errors.
“But in the second he established himself and placed his serves well. I got a bit tight.
“Ever the first four of five games of the third set were difficult
“At that point, it could have gone either way, I’m glad it was mine.”
Djokovic struggled but was able to put the hammer down as he worked to overcome Bautista Agut and reverse his string of two losses in the first three months of this year to the Spaniard at Doha and Miami.
The Serb claimed the opening set on a second break of serve, but was rocked in the second as the challenger struck back, finding a break in the third game to level the sets at one apiece thanks to a winning net word on set point.
Djokovic took the third after saving a break point in the seventh game with a 45 shot rally for 5-2 before putting the set away on a net cord winner of his own.
The fourth set was all Djokovic as the top seed closed the door on Bautista Agut with two more breaks of serve
“I think I deserve a little bit more in the third set. That was for me the best set of the match. We both played very good tennis,” Bautista Agut said.
“Every experience I had in my tennis career made me better player.
“I got a lot of experience today in the match … a lot of new emotions. I’m happy for the way I played, happy with the result I have here in Wimbledon.”