The Wimbledon men’s singles final is back to deuce.
Novak Djokovic survived an exhausting marathon of his own Saturday — they’re happening every day in this championship — to beat Rafael Nadal in a five-set match that would leave even the fittest players rubber-legged. In a match between familiar foes that started Friday night but was called for curfew, Djokovic prevailed, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8.
Djokovic, a three-time singles champion, will play for a fourth title Sunday against Kevin Anderson, whose record-breaking, 6 1/2-hour semifinal slog Friday suddenly doesn’t look so crippling.
Now, it’s two staggering survivors who must go from the cold of the ice bath to the heat of the spotlight.
“Kevin also had quite a few hours on the court in the last couple of matches,” said Djokovic, whose match lasted a total of five hours, 15 minutes over two days. “But he had a day off, which is quite, so to say, necessary at this stage. I wish I can have a day.”
Not that anyone is complaining. Anderson, who outlasted John Isner in the longest match ever played on Centre Court, is looking to win his first Grand Slam title. Djokovic, who had to pull out of Wimbledon last year with an elbow injury that eventually required surgery, is trying to reestablish himself as the best player in the game.
Djokovic is one of just two men — Roger Federer being the other — with at least 60 match wins in all four Grand Slam events, but he has gone from magnificent to mortal in recent years. In May, he dropped out of the top 20 for the first time in 11 years. He’s currently at 21.
Playing in his 22nd Grand Slam final, Djokovic is the lowest-ranked man to reach a Wimbledon final since No. 48 Mark Philippoussis finished runner-up in 2003.
“There were moments of doubt, frustration, disappointment, where you’re questioning whether you want to keep it going in this way or that way,” Djokovic said of the past 15 months.
“But did I truly believe I could get back on the level? Yes. It’s hard for me to play tennis and not believe that I can be the best in what I do.”
Playing under the roof — precisely the way Friday night ended for them — Djokovic and Nadal assembled an instant classic on a day when the women’s final typically has the main stage to itself.
Asked whether it made sense to him to keep the roof closed, Nadal said: “No, but I will not talk more about this.”
Djokovic believed the opposite.
“I was for the roof,” he said, “because we started to play, and I wanted to play in the same conditions.”
As to whether he asked tournament officials to keep it closed, he said: “I didn’t ask them. I just expressed my opinion because they asked for my opinion. But as I understood, they already made a decision.”
On the court, it was back and forth between two players who know one another better than brothers. Djokovic and Nadal have played each other 52 times, more than any two men in the open era.
“He’s probably the greatest fighter ever to play this game,” Djokovic said. “I mean, he battles every single point like it’s his last. That’s something that’s so impressive with Rafa. That’s what makes him difficult to beat on any surface.”
This was the fifth Grand Slam semifinal featuring Djokovic and Nadal, with Nadal winning the first four (three French Opens and a Wimbledon).
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
10:45 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional reporting, including with comments from Djokovic.
This article was originally published at 8:10 a.m.