LONDON — Novak Djokovic might win Wimbledon this year. Juan Martin del Potro will not.
No matter how this tournament ends, both men have their spot in one of the most memorable matches in the storied history of the All England Club.
Slugging it out over a semifinal-record 4 hours, 43 minutes Friday, top-seeded Djokovic emerged with a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (8-6), 6-3 victory to move one win from his seventh major title. "One of the most epic matches I've played in my life," Djokovic said.
Sunday, Djokovic will play second-seeded Andy Murray, who defeated No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to make his second straight Wimbledon final and move one win from becoming the first British man in 77 years to capture his country's home tournament.
This will be the third meeting between Djokovic and Murray in the past four Grand Slam finals. Murray won at the U.S. Open last year. Djokovic won in the Australian Open this year. On Murray's mind, however, will be his 7-5, 7-5 win on Centre Court last year in the Olympic semifinals.
"I'll take that thought to my head when we play on Sunday," Murray said.
With skies starting to darken, Murray's match was interrupted for a half-hour while the roof was closed over Centre Court. Murray protested, saying sunlight was still left, and he had just rolled off five straight games to close the third set after falling behind 4-1.
"I'd like to think this is an outdoor event and you try to play as much as you can outdoors," Murray said. "But I managed to regain focus."
The late finish came courtesy of del Potro and Djokovic playing the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history. The match was only five minutes short of the 2008 five-set final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal that's generally considered the greatest match played on Centre Court.
Djokovic and del Potro spent the afternoon exchanging groundstrokes and long rallies during their marathon, which covered five sets, 55 games, two tiebreakers and 368 points.
"I think this match is going to be memory for a few years," del Potro said. "We play for four hours and a half on a very high level. We didn't make too many errors. I don't know if the rest of the players can play like us today."
Eighth-seeded del Potro, back in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time since winning the 2009 U.S. Open, saved two match points in the fourth-set tiebreaker, then won the final four points to take it 8-6.
Shortly after, the match hit the 4-hour mark, guaranteeing it would surpass the 1989 match between Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl — a 4-hour, 1-minute affair — as the longest semifinal in Wimbledon's long history.
It was not the first time Djokovic had been involved in a marathon. His 2012 Australian Open victory over Nadal lasted 5 hours, 53 minutes. A month ago, Nadal outlasted Djokovic in a French Open semifinal that went 4 hours, 37 minutes.
"When you feel good physically, when you know you're fit and you don't feel a huge fatigue, that gives you mental confidence, obviously," Djokovic said.
Sliding on the dirt behind the baseline, Djokovic hit 80 winners and always made his foe hit one more shot.
Djokovic's fitness played a big role in the decisive break in the fifth set. It came with del Potro serving behind 4-3. With the score 15-all, Djokovic hit a drop shot-lob combo to close out a 22-shot rally. Del Potro then sliced an easy backhand into the net. Two points later, Djokovic had the break, and the 5-3 lead.
"You can see I played my best tennis ever on grass court," del Potro said, "but was not enough to beat the No. 1 in the world. I was so close."