Switzerland’s Roger Federer had to break yet another record to keep his Olympic dream alive and Andy Murray surfed a wave of British euphoria at Wimbledon on Friday to set up a mouthwatering showdown for a gold medal today.
Federer outlasted Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in the longest best-of-three-set match ever played in men’s professional tennis, eventually winning 3-6, 7-6, 19-17 in 4 hours, 26 minutes to reach his first Olympic singles final.
Murray’s clash with Serbia’s Novak Djokovic was no less intense, if not as long, as the Scot was roared to a 7-5, 7-5 victory by a flag-waving crowd drunk on the joy of a magnificent three days for British rowers, canoeists and cyclists.
“It’s just an amazing atmosphere to play in,” said an emotional Murray, who today has the chance to avenge a heart-breaking loss last month in the Wimbledon final to world No. 1 Federer.
“We play in tennis tournaments around the world and we get good crowds and the support is good, but you cannot compare it to that. The court was going nuts at the end and it was so loud,” he added. “I haven’t experienced noise like that on a tennis court.”
The women’s singles semi-finals were tame by comparison with Serena Williams, who like Federer has won everything in tennis apart from an Olympic singles gold, continuing to make mincemeat of whoever stands the other side of the net.
This time it was Belarusian Victoria Azarenka who was made to suffer as the American won 6-1, 6-2 in 63 minutes.
Sharapova was too strong for Maria Kirilenko in an all-Russian semi-final, winning 6-2, 6-3.
While Williams and Sharapova are both great champions, their efforts were overshadowed by Federer and Murray on Friday.
From 7pm, Roger Federer faces Andy Murray in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon.
From 8pm, men’s singles and men’s doubles finals.
From 4:50am, tomorrow morning, the fastest men on the planet clash in the men’s 100m final.
Olympic gold medals transcend conventional currency and all have equal merit, but if their worth was measured in sweat alone, the one that goes around the neck of Murray or Federer today would be the most treasured.
While Murray is yet to win a Grand Slam title, Federer, who has 17 of them, knows that this is his last chance to win an Olympic singles title to go with the doubles he won in Beijing.
Yet, for long periods on Friday, Del Potro was grinding Federer’s hopes into Centre Court’s dusty baselines, overpowering the Swiss in a 36-minute first set.
Even after leveling the match, he was perilously close to losing, serving to stay alive on no less than 12 occasions.
“I mean, emotionally obviously I’m extremely drained from serving to save the match so many times,” 30-year-old Federer, who owns virtually every record in the book, told reporters. “Basically I was down in the score for the entire match except the one time where I served for it.”
“I definitely got a sense that this was something special we were both going through, with Juan Martin,” added Federer, who served for the match at 10-9 in the 163-minute decider after gaining a break, only to drop serve to love.
With del Potro tiring, Federer got another break at 17-17, long after they had overtaken Rafael Nadal and Djokovic’s previous longest three-setter, and this time, despite wasting one match point with a nervy volley, he ended the contest.