Roger Federer gained his revenge 11 years on with victory over great rival Rafael Nadal to reach a 12th Wimbledon final.
A rematch of their classic 2008 title decider, won in five pulsating sets by Nadal, had been anticipated more than any match for years at the All England Club and it did not disappoint.
The final stages were packed full of extraordinary tension and drama, with Nadal saving four match points but, after three hours and two minutes, it was Federer, a month shy of his 38th birthday, who clinched a 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory and the chance to take on Novak Djokovic on Sunday.
Should he win, it would give the ageless Swiss a ninth Wimbledon title and take him to 21 grand slam trophies, three ahead of Nadal and six clear of Djokovic.
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 shown 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.
John Isner or Ivo Karlovic would have been proud of the serving statistics both men produced, with the only break point coming in the eighth game and saved by Nadal.
Federer was getting significantly more returns in play, though, and in the tie-break that paid dividends.
Nadal was twice an early mini-break up but Federer won the final five points to take first blood, his backhand, so often the bellwether of his chances against his great rival, purring like a vintage sports car.
Had he taken one of two break points in the third game of the second set, he might have pulled away, but the engine began to misfire a little and Nadal raced through the next four games to level the match.
Federer needed to re-calibrate, and he did, holding serve comfortably at the start of the third set and then dialling right back in to break for 3-1.
He won the game on a ding-dong point at the net, Nadal grimacing in frustration at having been unable to get the ball past his opponent.
This was the contest that had been salivated over, serve no longer on top, each man testing the other to the limit in pulsating rallies.
Nadal had two chances to break straight back but Federer saved them, the master attacker showing his rival that he, too, can defend as if his life depended on it.
The crowd roared their approval as he held for 4-1 and one break proved more than enough, Federer finishing an almost perfect set with a tally of 15 winners and two unforced errors.
It was Nadal looking short of answers but the fist pump towards his box when he held serve to open the fourth set showed that he would do everything he could to try to find them.
But, despite being nearly five years younger than his opponent, it was he who seemed to have lost the spring in his step and Federer took another step towards the finish line with a break for 2-1.
Nadal had been irked by being seeded lower than Federer despite his higher ranking and he screamed at himself when another chance to apply real pressure went begging in the sixth game.
So often he has been able to rouse himself to new heights at the most important moments but here the moments of magic were coming from the other end.
When Nadal saved two match points at 3-5, it seemed like this contest may have a twist reminiscent of 2008, and the final game was virtually a match in itself.
A shanked smash betrayed Federer’s nerves but he held firm to save a break point and kept pushing forward when Nadal produced two of his best points of the match to save two more match points.
On the fifth chance, Nadal’s resistance finally ran out, Federer raising his arms skywards as a last, desperate backhand flew long.
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Novak Djokovic insists he is not bothered if he does not get the same Centre Court love as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
The world number one booked a place in his sixth Wimbledon final with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Roberto Bautista Agut, but he was in a tetchy mood with the crowd as he suffered a mid-match slump.
He baited them on several occasions, first ironically throwing his hands up when they cheered the Spaniard winning the second set, then shushing them by putting his finger against his lips before cupping his ear after winning a 45-shot rally on break point.
The 32-year-old will meet Federer in the final and knows he will be in a similar position again, but says he is not affected by it.
“Look, I am focused on what I need to do,” he said.
“At times they wanted him to come back to the match, maybe take a lead because he was an underdog in the match. I understand that.
“But I had enough support here over the years, so I don’t complain.
“It won’t be the first time playing against Nadal nor Federer on the Centre Court.
“I’ve had that experience more than once. As I said, I know what to expect. I’m going to go out there and fight and give it all. It’s finals of Wimbledon.
“This is the kind of a match that I always dreamt of as a young boy with the tennis racket, dreamt of being part of. This is what I worked for. I wanted to be in this position.
“I have a chance to fight for a trophy. Regardless of who’s across the net or what is happening around, I’ll definitely give it all.”
Bautista Agut, playing in his first grand slam semi-final, has had to delay his stag do in Ibiza this week due to his unexpected run in the tournament, but he showed he was not ready for his time in London to end just yet.
He outplayed the Serb in the second set to level the match up in front of his friends, who flew in from the Mediterranean party island, cutting short a stag party that did not have the main man.
“They came on Thursday as a surprise,” he said. “It was really nice to have them in the crowd. They support me so much.
“Now I think I deserve some vacations. We had everything reserved from Wednesday until Sunday.
“They all knew before it was a small chance to be here, me playing on the quarter-finals. Well, it was nice.
“I think they really had a good plan. They spend Wednesday in Ibiza. They came to watch a good match, the semi-final of Wimbledon. Maybe tomorrow we go back.”
Serena Williams says her quest to equal Margaret Court’s record tally of 24 grand slam singles wins is not weighing heavily on her mind after reaching the Wimbledon final.
The seven-time champion is within one victory of putting herself alongside the Australian after she overpowered unseeded Barbora Strycova 6-1, 6-2 in the semi-final.
The prospect of doing so caused Williams issues in her defeats in last year’s Wimbledon and US Open finals, but she insists it will no longer be a problem when she faces Simona Halep in Saturday’s final.
“I thought about it this morning,” she said. “I actually didn’t think about it since because it’s really not about 24, or 23, or 25.
“It’s really just about going out there and giving my best effort. No matter what I do, I will always have had a great career.
“I just kind of let it go this morning. I feel really calm about it.”
Williams believes her mixed doubles partnership with Andy Murray helped her get so far.
The serve has been nearly flawless and the groundstrokes as brutal as ever, but her occasional forays to the net – a feature of her doubles matches with Murray – have also paid off handsomely.
Williams admitted: “I promise you, when I hit a volley I was like, ‘Would I have made that if I didn’t play doubles’? I don’t think so.
“I kept telling you guys I thought the doubles would help me. I really think it did. I don’t attack the net that much. I tried to and I want to.
“I know when I play doubles here with Venus, it definitely helps my singles game. I was really keen to play mixed here.
“I really feel like it helped me, not just for today and this event, but hopefully it will help me in the future.”
Halep described reaching her first Wimbledon final as one of the best moments of her life.
The seventh seed produced a fine display to beat Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-3 in just an hour and 13 minutes and become the first Romanian woman to make the singles showpiece at the All England Club.
Speaking to the BBC after walking off Centre Court, Halep said: “It is an amazing feeling. I am very excited and nervous. It was one of the best moments of my life.”
It will be Halep’s fifth grand slam final and comes just over a year after she won her first major title at the fourth attempt at the French Open.
It was a particularly proud moment for the 27-year-old’s mother Tania, with Halep saying: “I talked to my mum after the match. About 10, 15 years ago she said her dream is (for Halep) to play the final in Wimbledon because everyone is here, the Royal Box.
“So today her dream came true. I will play a final. It’s very special this moment. To be able to play Wimbledon final, it’s pretty amazing. I will enjoy for sure.”
Halep has only won one of her previous 10 matches against Williams but few have been one-sided and their fourth-round clash at the Australian Open in January was one of the best of the year.
“I played many matches against her,” she said. “Many of them were very close. Now, if I face her, I will believe that I have my chance to win.
“Of course, I respect a lot what she has done and what she’s doing. But now I feel stronger mentally facing her. It’s just a big challenge for me.”