Novak Djokovic topples Rafael Nadal in five-set marathon semifinal; into first Grand Slam final since 2016

Novak Djokovic slept on a two-sets-to-one lead Friday night, on the brink of advancing to a Grand Slam final for the first time since the 2016 US Open. With a win, he could put the demons of multiple elbow surgeries behind him. And after he dropped a back-and-forth fourth set, that’s exactly what he did, vanquishing Spain’s Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 10-8 in a marathon match. He’s a Sunday tilt against Kevin Anderson away from his first Grand Slam title in over two years.

Nadal held on in a wild fourth set

Waking up with his back against the wall, Nadal took the first three games of the fourth set, going up a break, 3-0. But Djokovic came back with three straight games of his own and was back on serve, 3-3. But Nadal did not waver, coming back with a hold and a break to go up 5-3. Serving to force a decisive fifth set, Nadal went down 0-40 before charging back and winning five straight points, capped by an ace.

Djokovic won a marathon fifth set

The two men remained on serve throughout much of the fifth set, with only three break points being faced. Nadal saved a single break point in the eighth game before Djokovic saved two of his own one game later.

Much like John Isner and Kevin Anderson in the other semifinal, that set up a marathon fifth set — Wimbledon does not go into a fifth-set tiebreak.

Tied at seven games apiece, Djokovic went down 15-40 serving, but he clawed his way back into the game with a big backhand and an ace. Djokovic faced a third break point in deuce, which he won with a terrific cross-court passing shot, and went on to hold serve, even after it went to deuce four more times. Nadal then saved a single match point with a beautiful drop shot in the following game.

Djokovic followed with a straightforward hold and then finally broke through in the 18th game, earning three break points up 0-40. He needed just one, ending a fifth set that went over an hour-and-a-half with a strong backhand that Nadal returned wide.

The match took two days to complete

The two men waited and waited on Friday as Isner and Anderson went five sets — with Anderson winning the fifth 26-24 — in the other semifinal. It was the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history and set off a new round of debates regarding rule changes. Wimbledon, unlike all of the other tournaments, does not feature a fifth-set tiebreak.

Djokovic and Nadal did finally get to play on Friday night, several hours after they were scheduled to take the court. After three hours of play and three sets complete, the match was halted due to darkness.

Djokovic goes for his 13th Grand Slam title Sunday

Djokovic, 31, will look to capture his 13th career Grand Slam title on Sunday, and his first since the 2016 Australian Open. The Serbian star has battled injuries to his elbow and shoulder and has undergone multiple surgeries over the past months, but he is back to showing the world the all-around skill set that made him No. 1 in the world. He’ll be looking for his fourth Wimbledon, and a win over Anderson would move him past a tie with Roy Emerson for fourth-most Grand Slams for a man ever.

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Novak Djokovic is into a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Novak Djokovic is into a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)