July 13, 2018
Novak Djokovic led by two sets to one but Rafael Nadal looked far from beaten when play was suspended for the night on Centre Court.
How lucky were those who had tickets for Centre Court on Friday!
After history in the sunlight, we witnessed pure magic under the lights, as two of the very best players of all time showed just how great they are.
Djokovic edged it 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (11-9) when the late hour called a halt to proceedings.
But Nadal had demonstrated most power and hit some of the most devastating winners, so you sensed this one might well go to five sets when play resumes.
Early on, Nadal looked taken aback by the Djokovic defying him on the other side of the net.
This was the real Djokovic, the old Novak, he of unparalleled defensive athleticism, and an offensive aggression to match Rafa’s too.
The first set was spellbinding in its quality. The mobility of the players and their shot repertoires were from another world, a planet beyond the first two semi-finalists, gripping as their match had been.
Djokovic threatened to break Nadal from the start, and it was no surprise when he did. Rafa had more power but Novak possessed more craft, and the contest was simply breathtaking.
Although Djokovic surrendered the penultimate game of that memorable first set, he served out to take it and deservedly so.
The Djokovic serve was broken in the fourth game of the second set after Novak got his geometry all wrong.
Did the Serb unravel? No, he broke straight back with the help of a dream lob-volley and an amazing cross-court pass.
The match seemed to be more in Novak’s hands at this point because it was his form that dictated the destiny of most games.
But Nadal stayed strong, displayed his power, and took his chances, growing in confidence, raising his own level once more to break again.
Djokovic looked erratic all of a sudden and Nadal was in the ascendancy as he leveled sets at one-all.
In a super-tense third-set tie-break, Novak’s reluctance to come into the net almost cost him dear.
Nadal sliced one drop-shot after another, as if cutting into Novak’s very soul with his precision.
And yet Djokovic refused to succumb, even after his 5-3 lead was eaten away. He survived a set point, teetered on the brink, forced his way back and finally took the breaker when his anticipation of the Nadal drop shot improved just in time.
Earlier in the day, we had already shaken our heads in disbelief at the entertainment on offer.
Did the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history, the second-longest Wimbledon match of all time, come down to one crazy moment?
Can six hours and thirty-six minutes be distilled into a few decisive moments?
At 24-all in the final set, with Isner serving at 0-15, he had complete control of the key point.
Anderson was on the seat of his pants, his head almost on the grass. Isner only had to hit the ball away from his opponent and there would be no time for recovery.
But he didn’t. Isner stroked his anticipated winner to Anderson’s left. The South African right-hander sprang to his feet and returned with his left hand, on impulse.
It was enough to unsettle Isner, who lost the point that was all but his. And the game. And the match.
So hard to lose a match when the first three sets were a marathon in themselves, and the final score was 7-6 (8-6), 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (9-11), 6-4, 26-24.
But Anderson wanted it more. He is the more complete player too. But what will he have left for the final?
That is for Sunday. On Friday, everyone was still marvelling at his improvised heroics.
Kevin said: ‘I don’t even know what to say right now.
‘My dad, when I was growing up, used to say, “Let’s play left-handed,” but I didn’t expect it to feature at this stage of my career.
‘Recovery will be tough but I am through to the final of Wimbledon and that is part of a dream come true.
‘I don’t know what John must be feeling after being out there for so long and then coming up short but he has always pushed me throughout my career.’
Anderson out-marathoned the marathon man. Isner, you will recall, won a match lasting eleven hours and five minutes, spread over several days here, against Nicolas Mahut back in 2010.
We thought the extraordinary Anderson had already given his best and peaked both mentally and physically by defeating Roger Federer.
Then Mr Indestructible comes up with historic stamina and another truly remarkable display.
We won’t write him off again, even though his opponent on Sunday must surely start as favourite.