Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal to reach Wimbledon final

Novak Djokovic
Former world number one Novak Djokovic has slipped to 21 in the rankings after elbow surgery

Novak Djokovic is one match away from a first Grand Slam title since 2016 after an epic five-set win over Rafael Nadal in their delayed Wimbledon semi-final.

Djokovic, who won 6-4 3-6 7-6 (11-9) 3-6 10-8 in five hours and 16 minutes, will face Kevin Anderson on Sunday.

The Serb led by two sets to one when play stopped at 23:02 BST on Friday.

Spain's Nadal broke twice in the fourth set when it resumed on Saturday, but Djokovic fought back to take his second match point to edge a dramatic decider.

This was Nadal and Djokovic's 52nd meeting - more than any other two men in the Open era - and the pair did not disappoint as they finally resumed their long-standing rivalry on the Grand Slam stage.

With 29 major titles between them, two of the game's all-time greats had not faced each other this deep in a major since the 2014 French Open final.

Starting under the Centre Court floodlights, finishing after an overnight break and packed with quality and drama throughout, it was a match befitting a final never mind a semi-final.

Nadal missed five break points in the decider and was eventually punished as 12-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic reached his first major final since the 2016 US Open.

"I'm just overwhelmed," Djokovic told BBC Sport.

"It's very special. It was very clear that very few things separated us. This kind of match is what you live for, you work for."

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Djokovic v Nadal: The incredible story so far..

The Djokovic of old returns

The question often posed as Wimbledon fortnight has progressed has been: is Djokovic back to his best?

Djokovic, 31, dominated the men's game earlier this decade, holding the number one ranking for a record 223 weeks and completing a career Grand Slam when he claimed the 2016 French Open.

But his form and fitness have since dipped - injuries and personal issues leading to him dropping out of the world's top 20 for the first time since 2006.

Seeded 12th, he came into Wimbledon on the back of a frustrating year blighted by an elbow injury, but had looked close to his best in his run to the last four.

The ultimate test came against world number one Nadal. Djokovic, who served immensely and returned aggressively throughout, passed with flying colours.

"Djokovic needed that match more," three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker said on BBC One. "He's been gone for two years and needed that to make this year important."

Centre Court given an extended treat

The resumption of the match gave spectators able to get a Centre Court ticket on ladies' final day an unexpected treat before Serena Williams met Angelique Kerber.

The pair did not start their match until after 20:00 BST on Friday as they had to wait for Anderson's epic semi-final against John Isner to finish.

They managed to play three gripping sets under the Wimbledon roof, but a 23:00 curfew imposed by the local council meant the match had to resume on Saturday.

Nadal, who had not gone as far at Wimbledon since losing the 2011 final to Djokovic, knew he had to make a fast start with his rival only a set away from victory.

He had to fend off two break points in a tense opening game, eventually escaping with a vital hold after battling through five deuces to clinch a 13-minute game.

That allowed the Majorcan to come out firing, breaking Djokovic's opening serve and backing it up with a hold to love for a 3-0 lead.

Djokovic maintained his composure to break back, dropping just two points in three games on his way to levelling at 3-3.

But he lost his way in the eighth game as Nadal moved within a game of the fourth set.

Tension initially got the better of Nadal too, however. He also coughed up a double fault at 0-30 to give Djokovic three break points, before fighting back and taking the match into a decider.

Decider confirms another classic

Only two of Nadal and Djokovic's previous 51 meetings had gone to a fifth set.

Their memorable 2012 Australian Open final and 2013 French Open semi-finals are ranked among the best in Grand Slam history - and a tense deciding set here confirmed they had produced another contender for that list.

Djokovic had only taken three of his 16 break points in the opening four sets, with Nadal claiming four of his six opportunities.

But, in a drastic swing, it was the Spaniard who ultimately paid the price for not converting his chances.

Djokovic missed the first opportunity at 4-3, then fought off two break points in the following game, and showed further resilience to battle back from 40-15 down at 7-7 - saving three break more points - in a 13-minute game.

With the match clock having ticked past the five-hour mark, Nadal saved Djokovic's first match point at 8-7 with an audacious drop-shot.

He could not save a second at 9-8, though, Nadal cracking a cross-court forehand into the tramlines after being forced wide by Djokovic.

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