London: This one, unlike Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's 2008 duel into the twilight on Centre Court, was not a contender for the greatest match of all time.
This was only a semi-final, after all, but it still had its moments, both tense and transcendent. It also had a different finish.
Nadal won that magnificent 2008 Wimbledon final, prevailing by 9-7 in the fifth set in something much closer to darkness than daylight.
Federer won the 2019 rematch on Friday, 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, finishing it off on his fifth match point by playing as boldly as he had from the start when he slapped an ace on the opening point.
"It lived up to the hype," Federer said.
That was true. Even though the match lacked the consistent excellence and set-by-set tension of its 2008 precursor, palms still got sweaty in the stands, and Federer and Nadal still came up with strokes of genius under duress that sent fans leaping up from their seats.
It is easy to obsess over age at this stage, to shake your head at Federer's ability to handle the pace and the pressure with his 38th birthday looming next month. Easy to marvel that Nadal has the same unquenchable thirst for victory he possessed when he was 22, with quite a bit more hair and no sleeves.
But down the stretch on Friday, such thoughts receded into the shadows as these great rivals and great athletes tested the limits of each other's talents and nerves.
The match was mesmerising in the fourth set not because they were defying time but because they were defying each other.
"They aren't thinking about age out there, I can tell you that," said Jarkko Nieminen, the retired left-hander from Finland who warmed Federer up on Friday to face Nadal.
The victory earned the second-seeded Federer a chance to renew another grand and enduring rivalry, this one with Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1, in Sunday's final.
Djokovic advanced earlier in the afternoon on Centre Court with a hard-fought 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut.
Bautista, a flat hitter from Spain, had beaten Djokovic twice this year on hardcourts on the regular ATP Tour. He won many more baseline duels on Friday.
But in a best-of-five-set format, Djokovic's staying power and ability to rise up on the biggest points were too much to overcome.
Djokovic, 32, has won four Wimbledon singles titles. Federer has won a record eight and is the oldest man to reach the Wimbledon final since a 39-year-old Ken Rosewall lost to Jimmy Connors in 1974.
"We all know how good he is anywhere, but especially here," Djokovic said of Federer.
"This surface complements his game very much. He loves to play very fast, takes away time from his opponent, just doesn't give you any of the same looks. He just rushes you to everything, so for players maybe like Nadal or myself that like to have a little more time, it's a constant pressure that you have to deal with.
"I've played with Roger in some epic finals here a couple of years in a row, so I know what to expect."
Federer now holds a 3-1 edge over Nadal at Wimbledon. But Djokovic holds a 2-1 edge over Federer, having beaten him in the 2014 and 2015 finals.
Djokovic has cracked the code on grass with his ability to return Federer's serve effectively, to stay tight to the baseline in the rallies and to defend and counterattack well in the corners.
If you don't have the confidence, it's very difficult to beat Rafa and Novak back to back.
Federer needs no reminding, and after summoning the intense concentration and enormous energy necessary to defeat Nadal, he must regather himself and try to do the same against Djokovic, who leads their head-to-head series, 25-22.
"Of course it's difficult," Federer said. "For the younger guys to get over the hump, they have to beat two of us in a row, which is something very tough to do. I know it too well myself. Rafa, as a lefty, poses different problems to me or others than Djokovic does. Djokovic stays on his line, hits flat, moves differently and covers the court differently. So for this you have to adjust tactically.
"But the most important thing is the confidence. If you don't have the confidence, it's very difficult to beat Rafa and Novak back to back."
Federer demonstrated plenty of belief in himself on Friday, and though Nadal still leads their series, 24-16, Federer has won six of their last seven matches, the only loss coming on red clay last month, in the semifinals of the French Open.
At Wimbledon, with the ball bouncing lower, he took control of the first-set tiebreaker by winning the final five points from a 2-3 deficit.
After an ugly, unsettling passage of play in the second set, when he mistimed shot after shot and lost 20 of the set'Read More – Source