If Roger Federer was going to allow Andy Murray to gain a foothold in the Wimbledon semifinals, this seemed as if it might be the moment.
Murray delivered a 129 mph ace to pull out an epic seven-deuce, 15-minute game, saving five set points along the way, to get to 5-all in the second set. As he strutted near the Centre Court stands, shaking his fist and roaring, spectators loudly saluted the effort with a standing ovation.
"I," Federer would say later, "was screaming inside."
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Was Murray suddenly making a match of it? Swinging the momentum his way? Not against Federer. Not on this day. Displaying the impeccable serving he produced all match — indeed, all fortnight — Federer held at love right away, then broke Murray in the next game. And that, essentially, was that.
Federer's 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 victory Friday, built by taking 70 of 91 points he served and breaking Murray in the last game of each set, moved him into his 10th Wimbledon final. One more win would make Federer the first man with eight titles at The Championships, as the grass-court tournament first held in 1877 is known around these parts.
"Doesn't matter whether it's No. 8 or No. 1," Federer said, "Wimbledon finals is always a big occasion."
On Sunday, the No. 2-seeded Federer faces No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a rematch of last year's final. Djokovic won that one in five sets to keep Federer stuck on seven trophies at the All England Club, tied with Pete Sampras and 1880s player Willie Renshaw, and a record 17 Grand Slam trophies overall.
Djokovic, who also won Wimbledon in 2011 and owns eight major titles, advanced by beating No. 21 Richard Gasquet 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4.
Nine of Gasquet's first 10 winners came via his smooth, one-handed backhand, but that stroke eventually let him down. At 2-all in the tiebreaker, Gasquet's backhand sailed long, and he wouldn't take another point in the set. When he was broken right away to begin the second, any suspense about who would win dissipated.
About the only intrigue concerned Djokovic's left shoulder, which was massaged by a trainer during second-set changeovers.
"It'll be fine for the next match," Djokovic said.
After reaching his fourth Wimbledon final in five years, Djokovic called Federer "the greatest player of all time on grass courts, and maybe greatest player of all time."
Sure looked that way against No. 3 Murray, who lost to Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final — the last time Federer won a major — but beat him a few weeks later for gold at the London Olympics.
Entering Friday, Federer had been broken only once during Wimbledon. So it was noteworthy that Murray won the coin toss, elected to receive and then, a minute into the match, smacked a backhand winner for break point.
Federer responded with a service winner, an ace and another service winner. Murray never got another break chance; he got to deuce on Federer's serve only once more.
"The guy served unbelievable," Murray said. "That was the difference."
Federer's 20 aces were part of his 56-winner performance, compared with 11 unforced errors.
"Definitely one of the best matches I've played in my career," Federer said, adding moments later: "One of my best serving days of my career, for sure."
Now that's saying something.
The highlight was the second set's 10th game, when Murray trailed love-40, dealt with two more break points, and eventually held. There were 20 points in all, lasting so long that both men changed rackets during the game, with Federer eliciting boos when he sneaked a sip from a water bottle.
Federer and Murray each used the word "unbelievable" to describe their terrific exchanges.
"It felt like every point was getting finished with a winner," Murray said.
Momentarily, it felt significant when Murray took that game, and the fans got their loudest.
"They were getting into it, as well, starting to get pumped up there," said Murray, whose Wimbledon title in 2013 was the first for a British man in 77 years. "A shame I couldn't keep it up."
That's because Federer, 10-0 in Wimbledon semifinals, never relented, right down to the on-the-run, cross-court backhand passing winner he flicked at a ridiculous angle in the final game.
He will turn 34 on Aug. 8, the oldest Wimbledon finalist since Ken Rosewall was the 1974 runner-up at 39.
"I need to keep it up for one more match," Federer said, "to really make it the perfect couple of weeks."