Wimbledon: Djokovic holds nerve to see off great rival Nadal

Serb reaches fifth singles final after two-day classic

Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his semi-final match against Rafael Nadal on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

Novak Djokovic will meet Kevin Anderson in the Wimbledon men's singles final on Sunday after the 31-year-old Serb beat Rafa Nadal in five sets 6-4 3-6 7-6 (11-9) 3-6 10-8 in a thrilling game on Centre Court.

The match was carried over from Friday night when it was stopped because of the watershed time for play under the closed roof of 11pm. Djokovic led 2-1 when they were taken off court.

At that stage Nadal and Djokovic had played for two hours 54 minutes, the game resuming with Nadal serving. Despite a warm sunny day in London the roof remained closed as the match had started that way the previous night.

Rafael Nadal reacts during his semi-final defeat to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. John Walton/EPA

Those who had tickets for the women’s final were treated to what could easily have been a final with little separating the two players.

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Djokovic threatened to break Nadal in the first game of the resumption, holding advantage twice before Nadal held for 1-0, the game lasting 16 minutes.

It was a match that swung both ways with both players constantly raising their game and threatening to break each other’s serve.

But it was Nadal who raced for a 3-0 lead in the fourth set. Three games later it was back on serve before Nadal for a second time found a way in the eighth game to go 3-5 ahead, Djokovic taking it out on his tennis shoes, striking his foot violently four times in frustration.

Nadal then held for 2-2 and the match went to a fifth set.

With plenty of high-level tennis from both players, Djokovic almost broke Nadal when the Spaniard missed a forehand down the line in the eighth game. In the next game it was Nadal’s turn. He had two opportunities to break service but couldn’t take them.

At 7-7 Nadal had a further three break points but again Djokovic came up with the big serves. That game may have been the 32-year-old’s best chance of a final because in the very next game Djokovic earned his first match point against Nadal’s serve.

The former champion, who won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, held for 8-8. Djokovic served for 9-8 and then it all came apart at the seams for Nadal after a high octane five hours and 15 minutes.

Djokovic shot to love-40 for three more match points. Finally a long forehand from Nadal went wide and long, the Serb earning a place in Sunday’s final against South African Anderson.

“It really could have gone either way I think,” added Djokovic. “It was very clear very few things separated the two players. Until the last shot I didn’t know I was going to win the match.”

It will be a tired pair going into Sunday's final. Anderson, who has never won a Grand Slam took six hours 36 minutes to beat John Isner on Friday with Djokovic taking five hours 15 minutes over two days to defeat Nadal.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times