Wimbledon 2018

Djokovic pips Nadal in marathon match

Win sets up final with Kevin Anderson - both having endured record longest semi-finals

LONDON • Novak Djokovic joked that he and Kevin Anderson would do well to contest today's Wimbledon men's singles final after an epic 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (11/9), 3-6, 10-8 victory over top-ranked Rafael Nadal yesterday. Djokovic earned the right to face Anderson for the title after a 5hr 15min marathon - the second longest semi-final ever played at the tournament.

It was a second day of epic drama at the All England Club after Anderson had needed 6hr and 36min to beat John Isner on Friday. That set the record for the longest semi-final at the tournament and became the second longest Grand Slam singles match ever played.

It also meant that 12-time major champion Djokovic and Nadal had been unable to finish their 52nd career clash on Friday night.

Yesterday's drama also delayed the start of the women's final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber.

"It's hard to pick the words. I'm just going through things, flashbacks to the last 15 months, everything I've been through to get here," said Djokovic, who retired in the 2017 Wimbledon quarter-finals with a right elbow injury against Tomas Berdych that resulted in a six-month injury lay-off.

"To win against the best player in the world, in one of the longest matches I ever played, I'm just overwhelmed. It's very special. It really could have gone either way. It was clear very few things separated us."

The three-time Wimbledon champion finished with 23 aces and 73 winners and triumphed despite converting only four of 19 break points.

"Until the last shot I didn't know if I would win. These are matches you live for and work for," added world No. 21 Djokovic, the lowest-ranked finalist in 15 years, after wrapping up when Nadal speared a forehand wide.

The former world No. 1 will take a 5-1 career lead over eighth seed Anderson into the final. The South African won his only match against the Serb in 2008 while Djokovic has beaten him twice at Wimbledon.

"Hopefully we can first of all play!" the exhausted 31-year-old said of his fellow marathon man.

Anderson, who needed five sets to knock out defending champion Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, has been on court for 21 hours at the tournament.

"He had a day off which means a lot. I wish I could have one, but it is what it is," Djokovic said.

Anderson, however, is racing against time to ensure his "jelly-like" legs will be able to withstand one final test today.

He became the first South African in the final in 97 years after seeing off Isner 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 26-24.

The one person who can best relate to getting ready for another battle after a marathon is Isner himself. Eight years ago, he was enshrined in Wimbledon folklore for winning the "endless match" - an 11 hr, 5min humdinger against France's Nicolas Mahut that Isner edged 70-68 in the decider.

With that three-day epic being just a first-round contest, when Isner returned for his next match, he folded very, very quickly - in just 75 minutes and without an ace.

"He's got a tough task ahead of him," Isner said of Anderson.

The lengthy affair led to renewed calls to introduce a final-set tiebreak, with Isner and Anderson among the loudest voices.

Deep into the fifth set, Isner asked umpire Marija Cicak, "Can we play a tiebreak please?", while fans shouted, "We don't want this to be 70-68, John!".

Their final set lasted just five minutes short of three hours.

"I hope this is a sign for Grand Slams to change. For us to be out there for that length of time. I really hope we can look at this, because at the end you don't feel great," said the 32-year-old Anderson.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'Djokovic pips Nadal in marathon match'. Print Edition | Subscribe