Defending champion Novak Djokovic reached his sixth Wimbledon final Friday as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal prepared to meet at the All England Club for the first time since their epic 2008 title showdown.
World number one and four-time Wimbledon winner Djokovic booked his 25th Grand Slam final appearance with a nervy 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Spain’s 23rd seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
“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.”
The 32-year-old will go into Sunday’s final seeking a 16th major title with a career advantage over both his great rivals.
He leads Federer 25-22 and Nadal 28-26.
“I will watch Federer and Nadal. I am a fan of that match up -- it’s one of the most epic rivalries of all time.”
Watched by a Royal Box crammed with sports and movie A-listers -- David Beckham, Rod Laver, Gary Player, Jude Law, Damian Lewis -- Djokovic swept through the first set with breaks in the second and eighth games.
It seemed certain that Djokovic was going to spend a lot less time on court in this semifinal compared to 12 months ago when he needed five sets and five hours and 15 minutes to beat Nadal.
However, Bautista Agut, who had already defeated the Serb twice this year, eventually settled and broke for 2-1 in the second set.
Djokovic fought off two break points, via a 23-shot rally, in the fifth game.
But the 31-year-old Bautista Agut held his nerve to eventually level the semi-final at 6-4 off a fortuitous net cord.
Djokovic, increasingly irritated by a restless crowd, broke for 4-2 in the third set and held for 5-2 off the back of a lung-busting 45-shot rally.
The set was secured, ironically off another net cord which fell this time in the Serb’s favour.
Bautista Agut, who had planned to be in Ibiza this week for his stag party, fought off break points in the opening game of the fourth set.
But Djokovic was relentless and tightened his grip, breaking twice for a 4-1 lead, and eventually claimed victory on a fifth match point.
Federer and Nadal will battle for a place in the final later Friday, 11 years after they mesmerised Centre Court in a Grand Slam championship match widely regarded as the greatest ever played.
Nadal emerged triumphant that day, winning in five sets in a four-hour 48-minute epic of fluctuating fortunes that stretched out over seven hours because of constant, momentum-shifting rain interruptions.
The Spaniard won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (8/10), 9-7 as the clock ticked past 9pm and with the famous stadium in near-darkness.
Over a decade later, the sport’s two most successful players now have 38 Grand Slam titles between them and more than $100 million in prize money each.
Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 champion at Wimbledon, has the edge overall, leading his great rival and friend 24-15 and 10-3 at the Slams.
However, it is eight-time champion Federer who just edges their Wimbledon head-to-head 2-1 after winning the 2006 and 2007 finals before Nadal famously broke the spell in 2008.
Nadal handed Federer his worst loss at a Slam in 11 years in the semi-finals at Roland Garros last month on his way to a 12th title in Paris.
The Spanish third seed has yet to face a seeded player and has only been truly tested once, in his four-set second round victory over Nick Kyrgios in what was comfortably the tournament’s most bad-tempered match.