Roger Federer reached his 12th Wimbledon final on Friday, defeating old rival Rafael Nadal “in one of his favourite ever matches”, 11 years after he lost their epic 2008 title showdown at the All England Club, a match widely regarded as the greatest ever played.
The 37-year-old eight-time champion won 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the pair’s 40th career meeting to move into his 31st Grand Slam final where he will face defending champion Novak Djokovic.
Top seed and four-time winner Djokovic reached his sixth Wimbledon final, and 25th at the majors, with a nervy 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Spain’s 23rd seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
“Obviously extremely high,” said Federer when asked to rate his latest clash with Nadal.
“It’s always very, very cool to play against Rafa here. 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.”
Federer is the third oldest to play in a Grand Slam final after 39-year-old Ken Rosewall featured in the 1974 Wimbledon and US Open finals.
However, he will have his work cut out on Sunday if he is to secure a 21st major title as he trails 15-time Slam winner Djokovic 25-22 in career meetings.
“Novak is the defending champion and he has shown that this week,” added Federer.
“He has been really solid. I will try and push him to the brink but it will be difficult as it’s not for nothing that he is number one. But I am very, very excited to say the least.”
Friday’s semi-final was never likely to match the knife-edge theatrics of the 2008 final although Federer needed five match points to secure victory.
Federer will not mind with his win coming just a month after Nadal handed him his worst loss at a Slam in 11 years in the Roland Garros semi-finals.
“I am sad for the loss because for me it was another opportunity,” said Nadal, who was also beaten in the semi-finals last year by Djokovic.
“But at the same time I created another opportunity to be in another final of a Grand Slam. Just accept that was not my day. I played a great event. I take this in a positive way.”
However, he added wistfully: “At the same time, today is sad because for me I know chances are not forever.”
In a tight 51-minute opener, Nadal managed to save the only break point in the eighth game before surrendering the advantage of an early mini-break in the tie-breaker which Federer claimed thanks to five points in a row.
The Spaniard finally carved out the first break of the semi-final in the fourth game of the second set, backing it up with a hold for 4-1.
Nadal then broke again for 5-1 as Federer suffered a sudden and severe power outage with the two-time champion comfortable levelling the contest.
Federer, the oldest semi-finalist in a Grand Slam semi-final since Jimmy Connors at the 1991 US Open, broke Nadal for the first time in the fourth game of the third set.
He then fought off three break points for a key 4-1 lead, coming out on top in a 23-shot rally and then a 25-stroke exchange.
There was no respite for Nadal, an 18-time Slam winner, who slipped a break down at 2-1 in the fourth.
Nadal saved two match points in the ninth game and two more in the 10th but a loose return sealed his fate.
Federer finished with 14 aces and 51 winners.
Djokovic, meanwhile, will be looking to add another Wimbledon title to the Australian and US Open crowns he already holds.
“This has been a remarkable tournament for me and to be in another final is a dream come true,” said the top seed.
“I had to dig deep, Roberto was playing his first semi-final at a Grand Slam and he was not really overwhelmed.
“It was a really close opening four to five games of the third set that could have gone either way — thankfully it went mine.”
Federer won his first Wimbledon duel against Djokovic in the 2012 semi-finals but the Serb triumphed in the 2014 and 2015 championship matches.
Overall, Djokovic also holds a 9-6 edge in the Slams.
However, Federer said he won’t be over-awed by the challenge as he chases a 21st major and Djokovic targets a 16th.
“Age kicks in. 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,” said Federer.