Roger Federer is one win away from a seventh Wimbledon title after booking his place in a record eighth final by dethroning reigning champion Novak Djokovic.
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The Swiss, who has 16 grand slam titles in all, was at his very best against a strangely subdued Djokovic under the Centre Court roof.
He forced the Serbian to commit 24 of the type of careless errors that have been absent on a stunning run of form that had seen him win four of the last six majors – Federer three times his victim at the semi-final stage – and wrapped up a 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-3 success in two hours and 19 minutes.
Federer will no doubt take extra satisfaction from the win too. Despite his standing as the game’s greatest modern-era player, he has been forced to take a back seat to the rivalry between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal over recent years.
That has partly been down to what, by his standards, has been a drought – he last reached the Wimbledon final in 2009 and has not won a grand slam for two and a half years – but also owing to Djokovic’s emergence as the game’s kingpin.
That balance has been redressed for now, though, with Federer now lying in wait for either Andy Murray or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and knowing he will replace Djokovic as world number one with a win on Sunday.
With so much on the line a cagey start was always expected and so it proved across the first five games, until Federer stepped up in the sixth.
He broke at the first opportunity, setting up the chance with a forehand to the corner and validating it when Djokovic slipped as he charged in to field a venomous cross-court backhand.
With his nose in front, Federer duly served out for the set, sending down three aces across two games as the opener was wrapped up in 24 minutes.
Djokovic is not a player to roll over and he started the second set afresh, breaking at the first opportunity to take an early 2-0 lead.
Federer helped him earn three break points with an uncharacteristically-shanked forehand and he took the second of them when Federer sent a backhand into the net.
He was determined not to have the break cancelled out too, with two of his next three service games all going to love, Federer’s only half chance coming in the seventh game when, at 0-15, he patted a second serve back into the net.
Djokovic was not troubled after that and got level with a 6-3 win. It was the first set Federer had dropped in a Wimbledon semi-final, having won 22 consecutively including today’s opener.
Like Djokovic early in the second set, Federer responded by going on the attack, spurning a second-game break point before allowing two more to slip through his fingers in the sixth.
The first was lost with an errant one-hander to the corner, before the second – teed up by a rally that contained 16 brilliant backhands – disappeared off the top edge of his racket.
But the Swiss was sensing a vulnerability on Djokovic’s serve and, having saved a break point of his own in the ninth game, he took the set in a mesmerising 10th.
Serving to stay alive at 5-4 behind, Djokovic offered up two set points with a wayward smash and that shot seemed all the more poignant when Federer landed an overhead of his own to take the second point available to him, after an 18-shot sequence that had beggared belief in its quality.
Federer showed no signs of struggle when he returned to the court after a short break, again taking Djokovic’s serve as he eased out to 3-0 – some unusually-wayward hitting from the five-time grand slam winner seeing him fall 0-40 behind, with a careless forehand validating the second of three break points.
With Federer in such a zone it came a a shock when he wasted three more break points in the sixth game, allowing Djokovic, who appeared to have switched off entirely, a last-chance reprieve.
But he could not get anywhere near Federer’s serve and could only stand and watch his title hopes – as well as possibly his world number one status – drift away as the Swiss took the set 6-3 and with it the match.
Federer said on the BBC: “Obviously I’m ecstatic, I’m so happy.
“I played a great match today, a great tournament.
“I was able to play some fantastic tennis.
“I thought Novak played well too, the first two sets went really quickly and the third was key to the match.
“I was able to step it up and get a bit lucky maybe.
“It really was a lot of fun playing out there today.
“It feels great to be in a Wimbledon final. This is what you play for, the Wimbledon trophy.”