Roger Federer rated beating Rafael Nadal on Centre Court again one of his career highlights – but celebrations are on hold ahead of Sunday’s final against Novak Djokovic.
Eleven years on from their 2008 title decider, considered by many to be the greatest match in history, the long-awaited sequel did not disappoint.
Federer edged the first set before going off the boil in the second but he seized control again early in the third and held it all the way to a titanic final game.
Nadal had already saved two match points and he came up with his best tennis of the contest to save two more but Federer was not to be denied, the soon-to-be 38-year-old winning 7-6 (3) 1-6 6-3 6-4 after three hours and two minutes.
“It’s always very, very cool to play against Rafa here, especially (when we) haven’t played in so long,” said Federer.
“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 at this point.
“But it’s definitely going to go down as one of my favourite matches to look back at, 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.”
Not too happy, though, with the carrot of a 21st grand slam title at stake in two days’ time when he takes on his other career-defining rival in his 12th final at the All England Club.
“Age kicks in,” said Federer, who lost finals to Djokovic in 2014 and 2015.
“I know it’s not over yet. There’s no point to start partying tonight or get too emotional, too happy about it, even though I am extremely happy.
“I think I can, with experience, really separate the two. If it was the end of the tournament, it would be very different right now. I’d be speaking very different, feeling very different. There is, unfortunately or fortunately, one more.
“It’s great on many levels. But I’ve got to put my head down and stay focused.”
This was Federer and Nadal’s 40th meeting, a clash of styles and personalities that dates back 15 years and continues to capture the imagination like nothing else in sport.
Nadal had won 24 of their previous 39 matches and 10 of 13 at the slams but victory for Federer in the 2017 Australian Open final had showed him that he could win again when it mattered most.
Indeed, Nadal had not beaten Federer on a surface other than clay since 2014, ending a run of five straight defeats in the semi-finals of the French Open last month.
But the 33-year-old has played on grass without pain in his knees for the last couple of years and had looked in fine fettle throughout this fortnight.
The Spaniard’s serve had been particularly impressive – he went into the match having served more aces than Federer – and the first set was notable for how few rallies there were.
Nadal saved the only break point in the eighth game but Federer began to return better and that made the difference in the tie-break, which the Swiss ended with a run of five points in a row.
He had two chances to break for 2-1 in the second set but could not take them and began to misfire as Nadal ran away with it.
The crunch moments came early in the third set. Federer re-calibrated and broke serve for 3-1, and then showed powers of defence more often associated with the man across the net to withstand intense pressure and cement the hold.
That seemed to dent Nadal’s famously indomitable spirit and, although he kept fighting until the end, he was forced to concede that he lost to the better player.
“I had my chances,” said Nadal, who won the second of his two titles here in 2010.
“He played a little bit better than me, I think. Probably I didn’t play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserves it. Congrats to him.
“I created another opportunity to be in another final of a grand slam. Just accept that it was not my day. I played a great event. I take this in a positive way. Today is sad because for me I know chances are not forever.”
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Cori Gauff could not bring her sensational Wimbledon singles form into the mixed doubles as she and Jay Clarke lost in the first round.
Clarke had upset fellow Brit Harriet Dart, with whom he reached the semi-finals last year, by opting at the last minute to play with 15-year-old Gauff.
But the fledgling partnership did not last long, Gauff and Clarke going down 6-1 6-4 to Sweden’s Robert Lindstedt and Latvian Jelena Ostapenko.
At least Gauff can now concentrate on the singles following her remarkable comeback win over Polona Hercog, which followed victories against Venus Williams and Magdalena Rybarikova.
The American faces former world number one Simona Halep in the last 16 on Monday.
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Andy Murray has left the door open for a potential return to singles at the US Open in August.
Murray completed a remarkable winning comeback from career-saving hip surgery just five months ago with victory in the doubles at Queen’s Club alongside Feliciano Lopez.
Prior to the Fever-Tree Championships, the two-time Wimbledon champion suggested he would keep faith with doubles until after the grand slam in New York, which starts at the end of August.
But following a successful and, crucially, pain-free week in west London, Murray will have a rethink.
“If I keep progressing, I would like to try to play singles,” he said.
“I think I have a couple of options after Wimbledon – either I continue with doubles but start training and practising singles through the US Open swing, and then try and maybe play singles after that.
“Or I take a longer break post-Wimbledon of maybe, let’s say, a month or six weeks, to get myself ready for singles, and then try and play close to the US Open time.
“But I don’t care really either way. It would be nice to play at the US Open but if I don’t – look, I got so much enjoyment and happiness after winning a first-round doubles match here that, you know, that’s enough.”
It seemed at Queen’s that was not enough, though. The Scot, who was close to retiring in January as he was struggling to walk without pain, let alone play tennis, strolled off with the silverware at his first attempt back.
Murray and Lopez – the latter ‘fresh’ from winning the singles title less than an hour earlier – beat Britain’s Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram of the USA 7-6 (6) 5-7 10-5 after a third-set match tie-break.
Murray had insisted after their first-round victory that winning was not his number one priority this week but the three-time grand slam champion has clearly not lost the appetite for a battle.
The fledgling partnership was 5-1 down in a first-set tie-break but fought back to level, and took it when Ram pushed a forehand wide.
The second set went the way of Salisbury and Ram after Murray dropped serve, and like so many matches during Murray’s career, it went to the wire.
Lopez, who must have been running on empty, somehow conjured up a series of stunning winners in the match tie-break to secure his own personal double and an unexpected, but welcome victory for Murray.
He was indebted to Lopez, who has been playing his own version of winner stays on for the past couple of days.
The 37-year-old had spent just shy of five hours on court playing three different matches on Saturday, getting through to the singles final before returning to what this week has seemed far more important, the doubles.
In the final, against Gilles Simon of France, Lopez let a second-set tie-break slip at 4-2 up to take it to a decider, and almost inevitably another tie-break. Lopez came out triumphant after another two hours and 49 minutes of combat.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s tough to believe. I won this tournament in 2017. That was the best win of my career. And then I did it again two years after, and then I won the doubles half an hour after that!.”