The second-seeded Federer outlasted No. 3 Nadal 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Centre Court on Friday to reach his 12th final at the All England Club, where he will seek a record-extending ninth title against top-seeded Novak Djokovic on Sunday.
The Swiss star, after failing to capitalize on two match points in the penultimate game and two in the final game — one after a long rally; another on a sharp cross-court shot — finally closed out Nadal after the Spaniard sent a shot long.
The 20-time Grand Slam singles champion capitalized throughout the match on his serve against Nadal, finishing with 14 aces and landed 69% of his first serves.
It was their first meeting at Wimbledon since the 2008 final, when Nadal won an epic fifth set 9-7 as darkness descended. Federer won his record eighth Wimbledon title in 2017, but lost to Djokovic in the final in both 2014 and 2015.
Nadal still holds a 24-16 career edge head-to-head, including 10-4 at the Slams.
Djokovic, meanwhile, sarcastically encouraged fans to get louder after he dropped the second set of his 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 semifinal victory against Roberto Bautista Agut.
After watching Bautista Agut’s shot hit the net tape, pop in the air and slide over for a winner that tied things at a set apiece, Centre Court spectators stood and cheered, perhaps envisioning a tight match.
Walking to his changeover chair, Djokovic nodded and waved his racket, then his right hand, at the crowd. Then he went to work.
“You go through these kind of emotional moments, especially in big matches like this, all the time,” Djokovic said. “… Sometimes I show my emotions, sometimes I don’t.”
Soon enough, the defending champion was bellowing and shaking his fist after putting away an overhead to go up a break in the third set. Moments later, he was ending a 45-stroke baseline exchange — the longest on record at Wimbledon, where such stats date to 2006 — with a backhand winner to save a break point.
I had to dig deep,” said Djokovic, who will play for his fifth Wimbledon title in six finals appearances and 16th Grand Slam trophy overall.
It was his 36th career appearance in the final four at a major tournament — and the debut in that round for Bautista Agut, who was seeded 23rd.
Even he didn’t really expect his visit to the All England Club to last this long: The Spaniard was supposed to meet a half-dozen of his buddies on the island of Ibiza this weekend for his bachelor party. Instead, those pals were sitting in a guest box at Centre Court on Friday.
“He was not really overwhelmed, so to say, with the stadium and with the occasion. He played really well,” Djokovic said. “First set, he was still probably managing his nerves and he made some uncharacteristic unforced errors. But later on, at the beginning of the second, he established himself.”
After a flat forehand return winner off a 107 mph serve on the very first point, Bautista Agut certainly did lose his way for a bit. Djokovic won 14 of the next 18 points while pulling out to a 3-0 lead — and he didn’t need to produce much magic to do so. Just one of those initial 14 points came via his own winner; 10 resulted from Bautista Agut’s unforced errors.
But the second set saw a shift. Djokovic stopped his until-then successful tactic of offering some variety and heading to the net when he could. His forehand also became problematic, while Bautista Agut couldn’t seem to miss a shot.
Bautista Agut already beat Djokovic twice earlier this season. Could he do it again?
No, largely because Djokovic rediscovered his best abilities. He came up bigger in the longest points, eventually holding a 29-17 edge when they lasted at least 10 strokes.
Once his volley winner found the net tape and trickled over to cap the third set — turnabout was fair play, in this instance, after the way the previous set ended — the outcome seemed inevitable. Djokovic broke to lead 2-1 in the fourth, and again for 4-1, then needed a handful of match points to seal the victory.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.