Roger Federer fends off Rafael Nadal to advance to Wimbledon final vs. Novak Djokovic

<a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/rio-2016/a/1221919/" data-ylk="slk:Roger Federer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Roger Federer</a> will face <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/rio-2016/a/1156004/" data-ylk="slk:Novak Djokovic" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Novak Djokovic</a> seeking his ninth Wimbledon title. (Reuters)
Roger Federer will face Novak Djokovic seeking his ninth Wimbledon title. (Reuters)

Roger Federer looked as vulnerable as he ever has at Wimbledon on Friday.

But after a shocking second-set letdown, Federer will advance to play for his ninth Wimbledon championship.

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There was a moment during Friday’s Wimbledon semifinal against Rafael Nadal when the greatest champion in the history of men’s tennis looked like anything but.

Following a tightly contested first set that saw Federer win, 7-6 in a tiebreaker, the wheels appeared to fall off for the eight-time Wimbledon champion.

Second-set meltdown for Federer

Nadal secured the first break of the match to take a 3-1 lead in the second set, and the match took a dramatic turn as Nadal broke Federer again en route to a stunning 6-1 second-set win.

But Federer responded at the start of the third set by scoring four consecutive points to hold serve in the opening game. He fended off a 40-15 Nadal break effort in the next game to hold serve and went on to win the set, 6-3.

Federer retakes control

When he broke Nadal to take a 3-1 lead in the fourth set, he never relinquished his advantage en route to the 7-6 (7-3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory to set up a championship final against Novak Djokovic on Sunday.

“I’m exhausted,” Federer told ESPN after the match. “It was tough at the end. Rafa played some unbelievable shots to stay in the match. I thought the match was played at a very high level.”

Rafael Nadal fended off four match points but eventually succumbed to Roger Federer's pressure. (Reuters)
Rafael Nadal fended off four match points but eventually succumbed to Roger Federer's pressure. (Reuters)

Dramatic fourth set

The match between the two storied rivals saw its most dramatic moments in the final games as Nadal fended off four match points to stay alive, pushing Federer with long, tense rallies. But the fifth match point belonged to Federer, who forced a long shot from Nadal to advance to his 12th Wimbledon final.

“The battles with Rafa are always very special,” Federer said. “It was nice. ... I think that first set was huge as well, get the lead. Tried to protect it. He came back very strongly in that second set. I just thought it was a joy to play today.”

Another worthy entry to storied rivalry

Friday’s match was the first between Federer and Nadal at Wimbledon since their 2008 final matchup considered by many as the greatest tennis match ever played.

Nadal won that day, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7 to secure his first Wimbledon championship in a third straight final at the All England Club featuring the two greats.

Friday’s matchup didn’t quite live up to those lofty heights. But it provided another worthy entry into one of the great canons in sports. And with Federer at 37 years old and Nadal at 33, it was another testament to the remarkable longevity of two of the game’s greatest grand slam champions.

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