LONDON — Novak Djokovic might win Wimbledon this year. Juan Martin del Potro will not.
No matter how it ends, both men will always have their spot in one of the most memorable matches in the storied history of the All England Club.
Slugging back and forth over a semifinal-record 4 hours, 43 minutes of backbreaking tennis Friday, top-seeded Djokovic emerged with a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-3 victory to move one win away from his seventh major title.
“One of the most epic matches I’ve played in my life,” Djokovic said.
On Sunday, Djokovic will play second-seeded Andy Murray, who defeated No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to make his second straight Wimbledon final and move one win away from becoming the first British man in 77 years to capture his country’s home tournament.
This will be their third meeting in the last four Grand Slam finals. Murray won a five-setter at the U.S. Open last year and Djokovic won in four at the Australian Open this year. On Murray’s mind every bit as much, however, will be his 7-5, 7-5 win on Centre Court last year in the Olympic semifinals.
“I’ll take that thought to my head when we play on Sunday,” Murray said.
With sunset less than an hour away, the Murray match was interrupted for a half-hour while the roof was closed over Centre Court. Murray protested the delay, saying there was still sunlight left. He had other reasons, too. He had just rolled off five straight games to close out the third set after falling behind 4-1.
“Everybody would be,” Murray said. “I mean, it’s just normal. You’ve got all the momentum with you. It’s still very light outside. You know, they played the Wimbledon final of Rafa and Roger played until, what, 9:40 in the evening? It was 8:40 when we stopped. There’s still 40 minutes to an hour to play.”
The late finish came courtesy of what had been billed as the undercard, but turned into something much better. Del Potro and Djokovic played the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history. Their match came up only five minutes short of the one Murray referred to — the 2008 five-set final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal that’s generally considered the greatest match played on Centre Court, and perhaps anywhere.
Djokovic and del Potro spent the entire, sundrenched afternoon exchanging huge groundstrokes, long rallies and even a few laughs during their marathon, which covered five sets, 55 games, two tiebreakers and 368 points.
“I think this match is going to be memory for a few years,” del Potro said. “We play for four hours and a half on a very high level. We didn’t make too many errors. I don’t know if the rest of the players can play like us today.”
Eighth-seeded Del Potro, back in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time since winning the 2009 U.S. Open, saved two match points in the fourth-set tiebreaker, then won the final four points to take it 8-6.
Shortly after, the match hit the 4-hour mark, guaranteeing it would surpass the 1989 match between Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl — a 4-hour, 1-minute affair — as the longest semifinal in Wimbledon’s long history.