Novak Djokovic, the top seed and official favourite to capture the Gentlemen's Singles at the 2013 Championships, took a hugely significant leap towards that goal by comprehensively vaulting what many had forecast would be his most daunting hurdle as he defeated Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-3 to earn a semi-final place against Juan Martin Del Potro.
Djokovic, who has set a personal mark at Wimbledon by not dropping a set in five matches, has now lost to Berdych only twice in 16 meetings, but one of those losses came in the semi-finals of the 2010 Championships, their only previous match on grass. Since then, of course Djokovic has captured the title here (in 2011) but he admitted to caution about his chances on No.1 Court against the towering No.7 seed.
So the stage was set, and with two legendary footballers, Andriy Shevchenko and fellow Serb and Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic, among the supporters in his courtside box, Djokovic joined battle with the Czech to produce a first set of supreme quality tennis, arguably the best at this year's Championships so far.
The slightest of advantages lay with Djokovic, who served so well that he conceded just eight points in five games and never permitted Berdych a sniff at a break. His first service game, replete with three aces, was enough to dismay most people but Berdych took it in his stride and regularly peppered the world No.1 with deliveries well in excess of 120 miles an hour.
It was clear indication of the Serb's current level of form that he even conjured break points in the first, seventh and ninth games before the set moved into what had been regarded as perhaps inevitable. That tie-break was just as tight as what had gone before until, on Djokovic's first glimmer of a set point, Berdych weakly poked a forehand wide, prompting Djokovic to flourish a raised fist towards his coaching team and the duo of famous footballers.
Almost before he had time to savour the achievement, Djokovic found himself 3-0 down in the second set, having dropped serve twice to a resurgent Berdych. The initiative was now with the No.7 seed and Djokovic needed to repair the damage urgently. Like the supremely talented champion that he is, the response was so positive that the momentum swung his way and was not to change for the rest of the match.
Berdych was clearly dismayed by the vigour of the Djokovic counter-attack in which four games were won at a cost of five points and the No.1 seed moved into a two-set lead by breaking the Czech for a third time. Now he was in full control and another capture of the Czech serve sent him 3-1 up in the third set as Berdych, unravelling at a rapid rate of knots, double-faulted twice.
So Djokovic ended up coasting home, upping his ace count along the way to 16 and reaching match point with a sumptuous forehand down the line, at which a stunned Berdych shovelled a close-range shot into the netting. Even so, there was a hint of relief in Djokovic's victory smile. He knew well enough what might have happened had that classic opening set gone the other way.
"It was a very close match, and that was what I expected," said Djokovic. "One shot decided the winner of the first set and that was an important advantage for me. I don't know how I managed to turn the second set around, but it was a he confidence boost for me to go two sets up.
"I could see he was frustrated in the third set so I capitalised when I needed to and he missed a few easy shots." Now I feel physically fresh for the semi-final."
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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