LONDON (Reuters) - When Novak Djokovic’s flying forehand kissed the net and bounced into the corner, he let out a primal roar that echoed around Centre Court, the All England Club and probably all the way to his hometown of Belgrade.
It was the point that had spared him going into a nerve-jangling fifth set.
It was the point that secured him a 6-4 3-6 7-6(2) 7-6(7) over win over shotmaker extraordinaire Grigor Dimitrov.
Most importantly it was the point that propelled him into a final showdown at Wimbledon with seven-times champion Roger Federer.
The so-called revolution by the ‘generation next’ of men’s tennis failed to gather further momentum on Friday as 23-year-olds Dimitrov and Milos Raonic came up short in their bids to overthrow the establishment.
Instead a 27-year-old father-to-be and a 32-year-old father of four - who between them own 23 grand slam titles - will battle it out for the biggest prize in lawn tennis.
A nonchalant 6-4 6-4 6-4 demolition of Canadian Raonic left
Federer standing just three sets away from becoming the oldest man to triumph at the grasscourt major in the professional era.
That particular statistic, however, mattered little to a tennis great who is chasing a record eighth Wimbledon trophy to take his overall grand slam haul to 18.
“I have a lot of energy in the tank. I am very excited for the final because that’s how you want to feel before a final, totally energized and eager to play,” said the Swiss, who will be contesting a 25th grand slam final.
After watching a sure-footed Federer neutralize Raonic’s bullet-like serve and firecracker forehand with casual ease, no one would have guessed that the same court had resembled a treacherous and dusty minefield only minutes earlier.
The all-white uniforms Djokovic and Dimitrov had walked out wearing soon turned into not-so-white outfits as they spent more time rolling about in the dust in the worn out areas around the baseline than standing on their feet.
But there was no denying the quality of the contest that could have graced any grand slam final as the duo produced a three-hour display of spellbinding shotmaking and heart-thumping drama.
When Djokovic led 6-4 and with a break point to go 4-1 up in the second, no one could have guessed the razzle-dazzle tennis that was just around the corner.
Those who had never laid eyes on 11th seed Dimitrov soon realized why he had been christened “Baby Fed” as he produced Federer-esque shots that drew a 15,000-strong chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” to draw level at one set all.
The elastic-limbs of both players were tested to their limits as they hit eye-popping winners while on their knees, while doing the splits and while diving into the ground.
The regular spills and tumbles were not to Djokovic’s liking, however. He raged at his shoes, raged at the threadbare baseline - even kicking up a dusty storm after one particular point - and raged at his racket for not coming up with more decisive winners.
How long could Dimitrov keep coming up with audacious shots like leaping after a lob and flicking it for an overhead crosscourt winner? Or hitting a diving volley winner during an exchange that left both players flat on their stomachs and looking at each other across the netted barrier?
The answer came in the third game of the fourth set when Dimitrov, having surrendered the third set tiebreak rather tamely, dropped serve to love after banging down three successive double faults.
But a competitor who had won 10 successive matches on grass was not about to give up his chances of becoming the first Bulgarian to reach a major final without a fight.
He broke back for 2-2, went toe-to-toe for 3-3, 4-4 and at 5-4 held set point in a game where he slid after a Djokovic shot and curled in a sensational forehand winner down the line that left spectators leaping to their feet.
The set point, however, disappeared into the bottom of the net.
Three more set points vanished under a blaze of amazing shot-making in the tiebreak as the hollering crowd willed Dimitrov to take the match into a thrilling decider.
Djokovic, though, had witnessed enough nail-biting drama for one day and his ear-splitting celebrations showed just how much of a relief winning the tiebreak 9-7 meant to him.
“I was a set and a break up and made some unforced errors that gave my opponent hope that he could win the match,” said Djokovic, who had survived a five-setter against Marin Cilic in the previous round.
”That’s something that I definitely cannot allow myself in the final against Roger.
“They have a similar game, so it was good to play a longer match and understand the way I need to prepare for Roger,” added the top seed, who has lost the three major finals he has played since winning the last of his six slams at the 2013 Australian Open.
“I am physically ready and fit to go the distance this time.”
With Djokovic and Federer showing the ‘next big things’ in tennis that they are still clearly second best - Sunday’s final will be the 38th successive grand slam final to feature at least one member - in this case two - of the so called Big Four.
After all the hoopla following the early exits of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, Federer summed up: “Let’s just be honest, it was always going to be hard to get rid of all four guys at the same time.”
Editing by Toby Davis