LONDON -- Surviving his toughest challenge of the tournament in one of the best matches played here in years, Novak Djokovic will play for his second Wimbledon championship.
He finally halted the dangerous Juan Martin del Potro in an instant classic, 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-3 in a Wimbledon semifinal record-setting 4 hours, 43 minutes.
The match reaffirmed the steely resolve of Djokovic that has been his staple since becoming a transcendent player in 2011, while emphatically extinguishing whatever questions remained about the resilience and toughness under pressure of del Potro, who played championship-level tennis in his first-ever Wimbledon semifinal.
It was the best men's match of the tournament, as emotionally and physically demanding as it was scintillating to watch. Del Potro, the eighth seed, hammered huge groundstrokes, while simultaneously hoping a heavily taped left knee could withstand the Djokovic assault. But in the end he del Potro came up painfully short.
"It was one of the best matches I've ever been a part of," Djokovic said. "One of the most exciting, definitely. It was so close. Couldn't separate us, except when I was up two sets to one and I dropped that serve. That is why he's a Grand Slam champion. It is why he's right at the top. When he was in a tough situation he comes up with something unbelievable. Credit goes to him for fighting. I'm just happy to go through."
The Serb maintained his furious pursuit of his seventh major with a tremendous serving game and relentless groundstrokes of his own and defensive pressure that grew more precise as the match wore on.
Most remarkable about the afternoon was the high-level of tennis both players produced. Del Potro, stretched to the limits of his abilities, resting on his knees between virtually every point in the fifth, played to the moment and the crowd, seemingly aware of the magnificent theatre as well as the stakes. Djokovic played with grim purpose, already so familiar with the big stage that it seemed to contain no novelty for him. Urging himself on, it was only another obstacle to overcome.
In the eight game of the fifth set, with del Potro serving at 3-4 and facing two break points at 15-40, del Potro needed to make a final stand. He fought off the first but hooked a forehand long that allowed Djokovic to serve for the match.
He fought off a break point in the game. On his third match point, Djokovic reached served out wide before reaching the final with a trademark backhand winner down the line. Del Potro gave the crowd more than it could have ever imagined, especially after a couple of nasty falls this tournament. The embrace between the two at the net served as proof.
"I was so close to be at the finals here in Wimbledon," del Potro said. "But I knew my opponent. I think I play really good tennis during four hours and a half, and he plays better because he won the match.
"But was a really high level match during four hours. He hit so hard the ball. I think was unbelievable to watch, but, of course, I'm sad because I lost and I was close to beat him.
If the first week of the tournament was defined by the slippery conditions that led to injuries and a record number of retirements, the conditions of the semifinals produced the fastest surface yet. The day was the hottest of the fortnight, the grass was worn sufficiently down and both Djokovic and del Potro were hitting the ball noticeably and extremely hard worthy of a Grand Slam semifinal, both on serve and with their groundstrokes.
"It's five sets," Djokovic said. "When I lost the fourth, I was disappointed because I was so close to winning. I had a lot of opportunities, but he was coming up with some big, big forehands. I didn't think I played wrong when I had those match points. Maybe I could have been more aggressive. It was very, very high level of tennis.
"It was what I expected. I expected to play five sets, and I'm happy to go through. It was such a high level of tennis from the first point to the last. I've never played anything like this at Wimbledon."