WIMBLEDON, England – For Roger Federer, it’s Wimbledon final No. 8. For Andy Murray, it’s No. 1 – and the first for a British man since 1938.
Federer, a 16-time Grand Slam champion, beat defending champion Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Friday under the closed roof at Centre Court to reach a modern-era record eighth final at the All England Club. He now is one victory from equaling Pete Sampras’ record of seven titles.
“I have one more match to go. I’m aware of that,” said Federer, who is 6-1 in Wimbledon finals. “Still, it’s always nice beating someone like Novak, who has done so well here last year, the last couple years.”
The next challenge will come Sunday against Murray, who is the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin 74 years ago. Murray, also trying to become the British man to win the Wimbledon title since Fred Perry in 1936, beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the second semifinal.
If Federer does win Sunday in his 24th Grand Slam final, the 30-year-old Swiss also would take the No. 1 ranking from Djokovic and equal Sampras’ record of 286 weeks as the top-ranked player.
“There’s obviously a lot on the line for me in terms of winning here, the all-time Grand Slam record, world No. 1,” Federer said. “I’m also going into that match with some pressure, but I’m excited about it. That’s what I play for.”
Federer and Djokovic went for winners on almost every point. But it was Federer who got the key points when they mattered in the third set.
“It’s hard to fire bullets the whole time, so you try to also find some range. If he tees off first, it’s hard to defend obviously,” said Federer, now 1-0 against Djokovic on grass. “It’s just not as easy to take that many balls out and come up with amazing shots time and time again. That’s why I kept on attacking.”
At 4-4, Djokovic had his chance with only his third break point of the match. Federer held with three service winners.
Moments later, while serving to stay in the set – and, essentially, the match – Djokovic gifted Federer a pair of break points by blasting an overhead long with much of the court open. He saved one, but Federer’s overhead smash on the second gave the Swiss great the third set and put him on the way to the final.
“(I) had unfortunately a bad service game on 5-4, and obviously he uses his opportunities when they’re presented,” said Djokovic, who had reached the last four major finals. “So you have to be always consistent. I wasn’t.”
The win improved Federer’s semifinal record at the All England Club to 8-0. His only loss in the final came in 2008, when Rafael Nadal beat him 9-7 in the fifth set.
“I hope I can keep my nerves,” said Federer, looking toward the final. “I’m sure I can, then hopefully win the match. But we’ll see about that.”
William Renshaw and Arthur Gore also played in eight Wimbledon finals, but that was when the defending champion received a bye into the next year’s title match. That rule was changed in 1922. Renshaw won seven titles and Gore three.
On Friday, Federer had the only break of the first set to take the lead, and Djokovic returned the favor in the second set to even the score.
The third set proved decisive, and Djokovic fought to stay in it right from the start. After holding easily, Federer gained a break point when Djokovic sent a forehand long. Although the Serb saved it and eventually held to 1-1, it was the beginning of the end for him.
The next three games went quickly and on serve, but Federer then earned a pair of break points in the sixth game. Djokovic again saved them, the first after a 24-stroke rally that ended with Federer’s forehand going wide.
“He was the better player. In the important moments he was aggressive, hitting from both sides,” Djokovic said. “Obviously, that’s what you expect when you play against Roger at the final four of a Grand Slam. I knew that.”
Murray later played Tsonga under an open roof on Centre Court and under intense pressure from a British public longing for a Wimbledon champion all its own.
“Big relief,” Murray said. “I just got to try to keep it together for the final.”
Minutes after the match ended, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the victory “great news.”
Murray got off to a fast start, serving well and winning the first two sets easily. And after losing the second, he hung on in the fourth, breaking in the final game with a forehand return winner.
“At the beginning was tough because he played well,” Tsonga said. “I mean, he didn’t give me one chance, one chance to go to the net. He didn’t miss one serve. He was really, really good.”
Murray was playing in the Wimbledon semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. Now the 25-year-old Scotsman made it to that elusive final, and Sunday he will face an opponent who beat him in straight sets in the 2008 U.S. Open final and the 2010 Australian Open final.
“I’ve had experience playing Roger in the finals of slams before,” Murray said. “I’m going to use that to my advantage and learn from my mistakes and also the things he did well.”
In Murray’s only other major final, the 2011 Australian Open, he lost to Djokovic – again in straight sets.
“Hopefully I can go one better on Sunday,” Murray said.