WIMBLEDON, England — Roger Federer is back in the Wimbledon final for the first time since 2009. If that seems like a long gap for the six-time champion, imagine how Britain feels: Andy Murray is the first man from the host country to play for the title in 74 years.
Both are playing for history.
The owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles, but none in the past 2½ years, Federer can equal two marks held by Pete Sampras with a victory Sunday: seven Wimbledon championships and 286 weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings. Murray, 0-3 in major finals without winning even a set, can become the first British man to collect a Grand Slam title since Fred Perry won Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1936.
"Everyone loves Roger at Wimbledon, but a majority of people are going to want to see Andy win this time," Sampras said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. "They can inspire Andy. They can pick him up. But at the same time, they might make him feel like he's pulling all the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders. That's a lot to deal with. And he has to play Roger Federer, so he'll have his hands full."
After seeing his grip on this grasscourt Slam slip away with quarterfinal losses the past two years, the third-seeded Federer reasserted himself by beating defending champion and top-seeded Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 Friday. Sunday will be Federer's eighth final at the All England Club, a modern-era record.
Djokovic or Rafael Nadal won the nine previous majors. But after losing six of his past seven matches against Djokovic, all on clay or hardcourts, Federer had the upper hand on grass, the first time in 27 career meetings they've played each other on that surface.
"People were like, 'How are we going to survive a Wimbledon final without you?' " Federer joked about his earlier-than-usual exits in 2010 and 2011. "For me, it was no problem. I went on vacation and relaxed. Of course, it feels great to be in the Wimbledon final."
No need to tell that to Murray.
Not since Bunny Austin in 1938 had someone representing Britain won a men's semifinal at Wimbledon until Murray, from Scotland, hit a forehand return winner that clipped a sideline to eliminate No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. It was a thrill-a-minute match, with both players smearing their white uniforms with grass and dirt stains diving for volleys.
After a review to make sure that last shot was in, Murray sat in his chair, tilted his head back, and an ovation rang through Centre Court. Murray had lost in the semifinals each of the past three years. "A big relief," Murray said. "I've just got to try to keep it together for the final."
Murray leads his series with Federer 8-7. But Federer won their finals at the 2008 U.S. Open and '10 Australian Open. "It's a great challenge, one where I'm probably not expected to win … but one that, if I play well, I'm capable of winning," Murray said.
Federer turns 31 on Aug. 8 and would be the first man 30 or older to win at Wimbledon since Arthur Ashe in 1975.
"I'm aware that the tournament's not over yet," he said. "I want to try to play the best possible final I can."