It would have been almost impossible to live up to the hype as a sequel to the greatest match ever played, as many would have it.
I’m exhausted. It was tough at the end Roger Federer
But Roger Federer revealed he was “very excited” to make it through to his 12th Wimbledon final.
The Swiss master overcame Rafa Nadal 7-6 1-6 6-3 6-4 in their first meeting since the lauded 2008 final which had experts hailing it as the best contest on a tennis court.
The 37-year-old will face reigning champion Novak Djokovic as he bids to extend his record number of All England triumphs to nine.
The encounter with Nadal was not as dramatic as the showdown from 11 years ago but was special.
Federer said: “I’m exhausted. It was tough at the end. Rafa played some unbelievable shots to stay in the match. The match was played at a very high level.
“The biggest points in the match went my way. There were tight ones and long rallies. That first set was huge, to get the lead and try to protect it. He came back very strongly in the second set. It was a joy to play today.”
The build-up waxed lyrical about what we could expect. But as Federer said about the stats and the history between him and his opponent: Who cares?
All that mattered was the ‘now’. What would happen once they had cocked their firearms and began shooting. Who would stand tall. Who would crumble.
Okay they had played that classic when Nadal beat Federer to seal his first of two All England crowns.
But that was back in the days when Nadal dressed as a pirate and was just beginning to plunder on grass after his coronation as the King of Clay. Points were long and the Spaniard’s serve needed more power.
And Federer then only had a mere five Wimbledon titles under his belt.
The Swiss has now secured eight triumphs in a record total of 20 Grand Slams and had moved effortlessly through the Championships to his 40th meeting with Nadal.
And, although coming up to his 38th birthday, he was clearly at the top of his game.
Nadal, though, had moved to within two of Federer’s remarkable total in the sport’s greatest era.
And had also cruised through the draw, his serve bigger than it once was while able to keep points short to conserve energy.
And the fact the courts had been playing slower than in previous years would have appeared to favour the Spaniard.
The great and good anticipated another epic. Or rather they hoped for it.
It seemed as if there was just a width of a cigarette paper between the rivals.
And so it proved in the opening set.
Nadal had a break point at 4-3 but it came and went as he dumped a backhand into the net.
And it went to a tie-break. There was nothing to choose between the rivals as it moved to 3-3. Suddenly, Federer stepped on the gas with the help of a crunching forehand pass and an overhead smash got to three set points. And when Federer drilled a forehand down the line to seal the lead after 51 minutes, the Centre Court erupted, revealing just which player they favoured.
The level of tennis would have defied belief it you were told the combatants were 37 and 33. But with the added information that the older gent was Federer and his junior was Nadal it was perfectly believable.
But the outer calm of Federer was ruffled as he was forced to save two break points before holding for 1-1 in the second set.
It seemed the Swiss had ridden the storm as he displayed how soft his hands were to pinch a break point of his own.
But that was as good as it got for Federer in the set as Nadal held and stepped up the pressure, breaking the player considered the greatest of all time twice, sealing it with a body serve to clinch the set and level the match.
The quality of tennis was breath-taking, with Federer brushing off the loss of a set.
The pair moved each other around with Nadal’s hammer of a forehand and Federer’s guile and power.
But as always, it is down to how you deal with the big points and Federer dealt with the first – and crucial – one.
It came in the fourth game. After a mind-blowing rally on break point, Federer finished it off with a backhand volley at the net.
The Swiss had Nadal on the ropes – playing almost error-free – and finished off the job to go two sets to one up.
Federer maintained his aggression, especially on his backhand, taking his shots early to great effect. And his sprightly movement belied his years.
He secured a break in the third game to put him in the driving seat for the finish.
But when Nadal is involved in the equation the road could be bumpy.
He had ended a five-match losing streak by overcoming Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open.
And refused, typically, to put up the white flag.
He dug deep to save four match points. But Federer, the picture of cool, just carried on as if he was playing in his back garden. And he took the fifth to reach his 31st Grand Slam final.
Nadal said: “A tough one. I had my chances. He played little bit better than me, I think. Probably I didn’t play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserve it. Congrats to him.”
“I think his return was better than my one this afternoon. I didn’t receive well. When that happens, he’s in advantage, he’s in the control of the match generally because you feel little bit more under pressure than him.
“Even like this, I had, yeah, the early break in the third. I had a couple of mistakes in that moment. That have been a tough moment I needed to resist. The beginning of the third probably was one of the keys of the match.
“Then I think at the end of the match I started to play much better, no? But was late. I think today the backhand didn’t work as good as in the previous rounds. I was little bit too worried about my backhand, so I was not able to move with freedom to the forehand.
“I was a little bit too worried about not missing with the backhand. When that happens against player like him, is so difficult. As I said, I think he played aggressive, he played a great match, and just well done for him.”