WIMBLEDON, England -- Novak Djokovic outlasted Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-3 in four hours and 43 minutes on Friday, the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history.
Del Potro repeatedly battled back in his first Wimbledon semifinal, breaking Djokovic to pull even in the fourth set and saving two match points in the tiebreaker to force a decisive fifth set. Djokovic hit 80 winners to 48 unforced errors compared to Del Potro's 48 winners to 37 unforced errors, but it was Del Potro's sizzling forehands that electrified the crowd and kept him in the match. It was a high-quality affair from first ball to last.
"It was one of the best matches I've been a part of," Djokovic told the BBC. "One of the most exciting, definitely. It was so close. You couldn't separate us. ... That's why he's a Grand Slam champion. Every time he's in a tough situation, he comes up with some unbelievable shots. I didn't think I played wrong when I was match points up in the tiebreak. Credit to him for fighting."
Djokovic, the 2011 champion, will play either Andy Murray or Jerzy Janowicz in Sunday's final.
Game-by-game analysis of Djokovic-Del Potro after the jump.
12:54 pm. ET | Novak Djokovic defeats Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-3 to advance to the the Wimbledon final.
Djokovic sends two backhands down the line wide to fall into a 0-30 hole. That shot has been failing him all day. Not sure why he wants to go for that shot right now.
Big first serve helps him get to 15-30 and then Del Potro mistimes a second-serve return to shank a backhand into the net. 30-all.
Net cord again is on Del Potro's side. It gives him a short ball that he puts away with a forehand to earn a break point, which Djokovic saves with a little help from ... the net cord. Make up your mind, net cord!
Big serve earns Djokovic his third match point of the day. The crowd didn't exactly erupt at the prospect.
He misses his first serve into the net and there's scattered applause. He gets the second serve in and, wouldn't you know it, the shot that has failed him all day, his backhand down the line, seals it. He hits it for a clean winner and he's done it!
The crowd clearly had its favorite. Its favorite didn't win. Tepid applause at the result. Or the spectators could just be exhausted and sunburned from the four-hour, 43-minute masterpiece?
12:48 pm. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *5-3.
Djokovic earns two break points at 15-40 thanks to a beautiful lob and a tired Del Potro backhand into the net. Del Potro saves one with a big hit but can't save the next. He loads and goes down the line but Djokovic stretches to his backhand to get it back and Del Potro fires a forehand back cross court wide.
Djokovic will serve for the match.
12:42 pm. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
Break point for Djokovic, which he earns after rebounding from a poor decision on a put-away backhand that Del Potro tracked down. He screamed at his box angrily for the decision and then went back to business, playing two good points to earn the break point. But then he puts a forehand into the net off a deep Del Potro groundie, then on deuce he goes for a backhand drop shot at the net and it falls into the tape. On game point he doesn't move his feet to the ball and he snatches at a forehand that he puts into the net.
Angry Novak. Seething Novak. Steaming Novak. But he holds.
12:32 pm. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
After four hours of play, you'd think that these two would consider conserving their energy. Not so. Down 30-15 on Djokovic's serve, Del Potro sprints across the court for a drop shot that he nets. Then on the next point he hangs patiently in the rally until he can open up the court and finish at the net. He fights back to deuce with a clean backhand down the line return winner, and earns a break point when Djokovic hits a forehand error.
Djokovic saves it with a good serve and finishes a mid-court ball. A quiet fist pump from him. He follows that up with an ace to get to game point.
But he throws in just his second double-fault of the day and he's back at deuce. He goes big down the tee to earn another game point and then another big serve wide to hold. Nothing Del Potro could do there. That was a strong save and hold from the world No. 1.
Ominous, Jon. Ominous.
12:22 pm. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
"And to think, this was supposed to be the appetizer to the main course," says the BBC commentator. Well ... only because you're British. This was always going to be the match of the day.
Career five-set records for the two: Djokovic is 18-7; he lost his last one, against Rafael Nadal in the French Open semifinals. Del Potro is 4-6, and he's lost his last four. So...that's not good.
Easy holds to start the set.
12:10 pm. ET | Juan Martin del Potro wins the tiebreak 8-6, levels the match 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (8).
1-0, Djokovic: Earns the mini-break with a backhand unforced error from Del Potro.
2-0, Djokovic: Del Potro scorches a forehand down the line but Djokovic tracks it down and hits a defensive lob that lands on the line. Del Potro waits for the out call and doesn't get it, calls for a Hawk-Eye challenge and is wrong. Del Potro sits down by the video board.
2-1, Djokovic: Del Potro gets one mini-break back when Djokovic nets a forehand.
3-1, Djokovic: Great returning from Djokovic, who sticks one on the line and eventually earns an overhead to put away. He's got the mini-break back.
3-2, Djokovic: Now it's Djokovic's turn to stop a rally to question a call via Hawk-Eye. He's wrong. Ball ticked the back of the line.
4-2, Djokovic: Djokovic with an ace as they change ends.
4-3, Del Potro: Now it's Del Potro's turn to put some balls on the baseline, and he earns a short ball to put away. We're back on serve.
4-4, tied: More big hitting from the Del Potro forehand and Djokovic takes another bad slip on a big forehand winner from Del Potro.
5-4, Djokovic: Another extraordinary rally ends with Del Potro playing defense and he gets to a forehand down in the corner but Djokovic is there to put away the backhand volley into the open court. Del Potro takes another seat. He's doing all he can. It's not enough. Djokovic with the mini-break.
6-4, Djokovic: Forehand winner for Djokovic to earn his first match point.
6-5, Djokovic: WHAT A POINT! The BBC commentary booth is laughing. Del Potro pounding forehands into the Djokovic backhand corner and has the man playing his best defense in a 24-stroke rally. Del Potro had to hit at least seven winners in that rally and, finally, as a Djokovic stab is lobbed, he waves his arms to wave it out. Incredible!
6-6, tied: Del Potro forehand winner. Wow.
7-6, Del Potro: Big serve and finishes with a volley. Huge "COME ON!!!!" from the Argentine.
8-6, Del Potro wins the tiebreak: Backhand return crushes a weak second serve. We're going five!
11:55 am. ET | Djokovic holds, tied 6-6.
Despite a 113 mph cross-court forehand winner from Del Potro, Djokovic holds.
11:52 am. ET | Del Potro holds, leads 6-5*.
Back to you, Novak. Del Potro holds to love in a blink and Djokovic will serve to force another tiebreak.
Question: Am I the only one who thinks this is just Djokovic's regular sleeping position?
11:50 am. ET | Djokovic holds, tied 5-5*.
Del Potro just hit a 100 mph short cross-court forehand that was just out. Then he leans into a forehand for a 93 mph winner. Because he can.
All that power is for naught, though. He cracks another forehand at 40-30 and it's called long. He thinks about it and doesn't challenge it. He should have. The TV replays show it was in. I will say here what I said after the Li Na-Aga Radwanska match: WHY DON'T PLAYERS CHALLENGE ON BIG POINTS? Infuriating.
11:44 am. ET | Del Potro holds, leads 5-4*.
Two ridiculous back-to-back returns from Djokovic to open the ninth game and he's 0-30 on Del Potro's serve. But he sends a forehand wide and then a return long to even the game at 30-all. Another forehand error from the Serb as he sends one down the line that hits the tape. A backhand return wide and, boom, Del Potro holds.
More unforced errors coming from Djokovic's forehand than backhand in this set. He'll serve to stay in the set.
11:40 am. ET | Del Potro breaks back, tied 4-4*.
The Tower of Tandil ain't done. A few loose forehands from Djokovic give Del Potro a break point at 30-40 and one is all he needs. He steps into a backhand down the line for a clear winner and he's back in the match.
11:35 am. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *4-3.
Djokovic has 15-40 on Del Potro's serve, and the big man's legs are looking weary. He saves the first with a brilliant play at the net as Djokovic is slipping and sliding all over the place with his defense. But he can't save the second break point, as Djokovic whizzes a forehand right at his feet in the rally and Del Potro nets it.
That might be the match.
11:30 am. ET | Djokovic holds, tied 3-3*.
Hilarious moment as Del Potro unleashes a forehand down the line and he thinks it's in, but chair umpire James "I'm not Anne" Keothavong calls it long. Del Potro continues his jog to the other side of the net, walks up to Djokovic, the two exchange some light words and Del Potro unzips Djokovic's shirt as he walks away. This guy.
11:25 am. ET | Del Potro holds, leads 3-2*.
Let's look back at the stats from that incredible third set. Djokovic hit 19 winners to 12 unforced, while Del Potro hit 9 winners to 9 unforced. If you're thinking (as I am) that Del Potro's numbers seem awfully low, it's because Djokovic got his racket on quite a few of those vaporized forehands. That will skew the numbers.
A big stat for Djokovic was his 12-for-17 success rate at the net. That definitely bailed him out as he was struggling off the ground early in the set. More disappointing for him, though, is that he won just 23 percent of his second-serve points in that set.
Del Potro builds a 40-0 lead, but Djokovic gets back to 40-30. On game point, Djokovic plays some solid lateral defense but Del Potro finally puts it away by hitting a forehand behind him. The change in direction causes a slip, but Djokovic is fine.
11:18 am. ET | Del Potro holds, leads 2-1*.
"More of the quality that we just had in that third set, please," beseeches the BBC commentator. Yes, please.
Del Potro plays two great points and he's down 0-30 on his own serve. He's showing some good aggression to get to the net and Djokovic is passing him with pinpoint precision. Del Potro hits the deck after diving for a forehand volley and he lays there for a while. It's cool, buddy. Take a breather.
That net-cord lesson from the second set seems to have paid off. He gets back to 15-30 and then gets a net-cord winner, as the ball decides at the last minute to land on Djokovic's side. He holds.
Djokovic holds with a bit more ease, though Del Potro had an overhead backhand volley that could have gotten him to deuce. He nets it instead and Djokovic holds at 30.
"I understand that word in Serbian. And I will not translate it." Tremendous insight, Boris Becker.
Del Potro holds at 30. A few impatient errors from Djokovic there.
11:00 am. ET | Novak Djokovic wins the tiebreaker 7-2, leads 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2).
Djokovic has the mini-break at 4-2 as they head to the changeover. Djokovic slips while sending up an overhead and Del Potro nets it! Can this match really turn on that one point?
At 2-5, Del Potro nets a forehand to hand over another mini-break and Djokovic escapes with the set, winning the tiebreaker 7-2. Wow.
10:52 am. ET | Del Potro holds, tied 6-6.
Just like that, Djokovic has three set points. A great return game from Djokovic. He's beating Del Potro with his depth of return in this game, landing the ball within inches of the baseline and taking control off Del Potro's off-balance reply.
But rather unbelievably, Del Potro saves all three set points. The first he saves when Djokovic just misses a backhand winner down the line. The second is saved on a quirky play at the net. And the last one is wiped out most spectacularly with a 90 mph forehand winner down the line that was practically a spinning no-look shot. Tremendous stuff.
He holds. Tiebreak.
10:47 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 6-5*.
Del Potro serving to stay in the set and he starts by playing two of his worst points in the match. An easy backhand error goes into the middle of the net and it's 0-30. Djokovic bails him out with a bunted forehand return long.
At 15-30 Del Potro hits a shot I can't describe. Djokovic rips a running forehand cross-court and Del Potro returns the favor with a forehand that's completely flat and has little follow through, and Djokovic ends up on the ground as he dives for it. As he gets up he shoots a smile over at Del Potro, which is probably the equivalent to six racket claps. Del Potro holds with some more huge hitting off his forehand that leaves Djokovic on the ground again. That was awesome.
Djokovic responds with an easy hold. Del Potro will serve to force a tiebreak.
10:39 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 5-4*.
Del Potro showing no signs of frustration after missing out on those two break points. He holds easily at 15 and throws up a smile and a fist pump to the crowd after a particularly entertaining cat-and-mouse point. The loose errors are still coming off Djokovic's racket but he's hanging in there. Great net play again in that game to hold at 30.
10:31 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
There's a lack of clarity in Djokovic's game right now. Tactically, he's going for shots he should be going for. Down 15-30, he tries to hit a backhand down the line winner while off-balance and out of position and he nets it. He's throwing his arms in the air at his box in frustration.
Del Potro has two break points and he has a difficult but makeable volley winner but it hits the tape and stays on his side. He kisses the net cord and face-plams. The crowd loves it.
On the second break point, Del Potro pulls the trigger on a backhand down the line and it's just out. Tennis is a game of inches. Del Potro probably thinks he should be sitting at his chair with a break right now. Djokovic definitely thought he hit a clean winner, too.
On game point, Del Potro goes for that same backhand down the line and this time he hits it cleanly. Djokovic earns another game point with a good serve but he sprays yet another backhand down the line wide to go back to deuce. Another long rally sees Djokovic crack a running forehand cross-court to break open the rally and it ends as Del Potro sends a backhand wide. He runs over to the crowd and decides to have a conversation with some of the front-row spectators. He's winning the crowd, for sure.
"There's no business like show business, is there," Boris says to no one in particular.
Djokovic eventually gets the hold and he screams to release the tension. His serving is really keeping him in this.
10:21 am. ET | Del Potro holds, tied 3-3*.
Djokovic gets to 30-30 and Del Potro responds with an impossible inside-out forehand angle that has the BBC commentators lathered up. "Please, please! How did he come up with that angle?!?" That was clutch from the Argentine. He eventually holds after a deuce game, with Del Potro out-rallying Djokovic from the baseline. Oddly, Djokovic hasn't been able to hit through Del Potro since the first set and he's showing his frustration.
10:14 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
Del Potro is playing so well right now. He gets to 0-30 on Djokovic's serve. Then Djokovic hits a 112 mph second serve to get on the board. Another great serve down the middle and he's back to 30-30. An ace down the middle and he's got game point. "And Djokovic responds like a champ," says Boris.
A net-cord winner on the return from Del Potro gets it to deuce. Forehand error from Djokovic and Del Potro has his first break point of the set. Good first serve wide from Djokovic to save it.
Djokovic goes for the serve and volley at deuce but he doesn't need the volley part. Ace on the line. He gets out of the jam as Del Potro nets a return. What incredible serving from Djokovic with his back against the wall.
"I call that the first moment of crisis in the Djokovic campaign at this year's Wimbledon." Thanks, Boris.
10:03 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
Relatively straightforward holds for the two as the third set begins. "This match is really up for grabs at the moment. I find this third set is key, especially for Del Potro," says Boris Becker. Crack analysis there, Boris.
9:50 am. ET | Del Potro wins the second set, 6-4.
Djokovic holds at love. Del Potro holds at love. We're tied at a set apiece.
Del Potro went from hitting four winners in the first set to hitting 11 in the second set to just 3 unforced errors. Djokovic brought down his unforced rate and played a much cleaner set -- he hit 12 unforced in the first and just 3 in the second -- to go along with 12 winners. But the key stat was break point conversion: Djokovic 0 for 5, Del Potro 1 for 1. One shot, one kill, one set.
9:45 am. ET | Del Potro holds, leads 5-3*.
It was looking like an easy hold for Del Potro. And then it wasn't.
He builds a 40-0 lead, then finds himself at deuce after two forced errors and a double fault. Another error and Djokovic has break point. Del Potro saves it with a big backhand to the corner and follows it in for the put-away volley. A big one-two serve and forehand combination earns him game point and he holds as Djokovic hits a forehand return long.
9:38 am. ET | Del Potro breaks, leads *4-3.
GO ON, DELPO! He gets the Centre Court crowd fired up as he tracks down a drop shot for a cross-court winner to get to 0-30 on Djokovic's serve. An error from Djokovic and look at that: Del Potro has three break points. He converts on his first and skips to his chair. Game on.
9:37 am. ET | Del Potro holds, tied 3-3*.
The doctor clearly gave Del Potro the wrong pills. He was supposed to give him the "magic pills" and instead he got the "play horribly for a game and get broken pills". Del Potro plays a loose game to give Djokovic two break points at 15-40. He saves the first with a lunging volley winner and saves the second with a huge ace out wide. Some solid net play from Djokovic earns him another break point, which he fails to convert on a shanked forehand. Del Potro escapes with the hold.
I don't know. Maybe they are magic pills.
Nice to see Djokovic's father, Srdjan, sitting in the player box. He had a serious health scare last fall that required hospitalization and hasn't been to many tournaments as far as I know. Djokovic dedicated his ATP World Tour Finals win to him last November.
9:24 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
They trade easy holds. The doctor came out during the changeover to give Del Potro some medication.
9:18 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
Looking at the first set stats, two numbers pop out. Djokovic is getting 73 percent of his returns in play compared to 58 percent for Del Potro, and Del Potro finished that set with just four winners. There's no way Del Potro is going to win a set against anyone hitting just four unforced, which is as much a credit to Djokovic's defense as it is a statement on Del Potro's aggressiveness. Del Potro is going to have to crank it up if he wants to level this match. Which also means this match could get away from him quickly if he starts racking up the unforced errors.
9:07 am. ET | Djokovic breaks, wins the first set 7-5.
At 30-15 on Del Potro's serve, the two exchange some heavy shots until Djokovic throws in a cruel drop shot to win the point. Del Potro smacks the net with his racket in frustration. At 30-30, Del Potro slices a backhand long and, just like that, it's set point for the Serb.
Del Potro fires a second serve wide and this time Djokovic makes the return. Del Potro pushes a forehand wide and that's it. Djokovic takes the set.
9:02 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 6-5*.
Djokovic gets to 30-30 on Del Potro's serve and this time it's his forehand that lets him down. He sends one into the tape and stares at his box. He's really letting Del Potro off the hook in this set. Del Potro seals the hold with a big forehand down the line that lands plum on the baseline.
As we move to the 11th game, Djokovic's unforced error count is at 12, with eight of those coming off his more reliable backhand. Surprising.
Djokovic responds with a hold of his own. Del Potro has clearly pulled ahead as a crowd favorite on Centre, though. He tried to crack another running forehand winner cross-court, and when the crowd heard the delayed out call, the stadium deflated. Then on game point, Del Potro goes for the tweener/lob and it goes long.
8:51 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 5-4*.
Good hold from Del Potro, with Djokovic throwing a few bad errors in to help the cause.
Serving at 40-0, Djokovic hits in a first serve wide and Del Potro sends a backhand cross-court return back. Djokovic misses a regulation backhand wide. That's the first point he's lost on his first serve, which is incredible considering he's serving at 70 percent. Djokovic holds to 5-4.
8:42 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
HOLY FOREHAND, DELPO. The scariest sight for anyone has to be Del Potro running wide to his forehand and putting every ounce of power he has into a forehand back cross-court. That is some frightening power. Del Potro does just that at 15-15 to get a look at Djokovic's serve at 15-30.
But Djokovic steadies out the hold. He still hasn't lost a point on his first serve. He's also winning the stat sheet: He's hit 11 winners to 6 unforced errors, while Del Potro has hit 3 winners to 4 unforced errors.
Three winners? Djokovic is playing some amazing defense.
8:38 am. ET | Del Potro holds, tied 3-3*.
Given the bright sunshine, Djokovic has now gone to the baseball cap. Del Potro with a bad double-fault at 30-15 and moves to smash the turf. He wisely thinks better of it. Djokovic out-rallies him to earn the first break point of the match, which Del Potro saves with a big serve. They're finally taking off the restrictor plates and hitting big now. Del Potro is grunting through his forehand (that's a good thing) and Djokovic saves game point to get it back to deuce with a ridiculous sharp-angled forehand. How exactly does one hit that?
Djokovic saves another game point in another punishing rally that sees him again hit this sharp-angled forehand out wide that forces Del Potro to try to hit around the net post. He nets it. "They should throw that ball out, it's had so much work on it," says the BBC commentator. Boris Becker is also saying some things but they don't really make sense so I'm not going to transcribe them.
Del Potro earns another game point and ... another double fault! He lets out a guttural scream in frustration. On the fifth deuce, Del Potro kicks a second serve high and Djokovic can't deal with it. He puts it weakly into the net. Finally, Del Potro converts on game point by winning a backhand slice rally. That was a great escape from the big man and Djokovic will rue his returning on the big points there.
This match just got really fun.
8:24 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
Two more easy holds exchanged. Clean start for both guys. Djokovic hasn't lost a point on his first serve, going 10 for 10.
8:19 am. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
No surprise that Del Potro's first point comes off a deep forehand. Also no surprise that Djokovic holds easily, securing the first game with an ace.
Heyo! Del Potro wins a backhand-to-backhand rally. Not sure he'll win many of those today but that was nice patience from him to push the ball deep into the corner as opposed to stepping in to crack the winner. The placement earned a backhand error. Del Potro holds.
Another easy hold from Djokovic. If this were a prize fight, these first few games are just two fighters circling each other with a few lazy jabs. Both trying to find their rhythm before digging into this match. Speaking of boxing, Amir Khan is in the Royal Box. Again, not with Anna Wintour. I don't think.
8:09 am. ET | Warm-up
It's an obnoxiously beautiful day in Wimbledon as Djokovic and Del Potro take Centre Court for the first semifinal. It's sunny, warm and there's little wind. Murray Mound was jam-packed within a few hours of the gates opening this morning. Hope those kids slather on the sunscreen. It's a scorcher today.
No surprise that Del Potro has come out with his left knee heavily strapped. Hopefully he had some extra "magic pills" left over from his last match, against David Ferrer. This could be a great match if Del Potro can play freely. The again, there's this:
Interesting. Has Del Potro become the very tall boy who cried wolf?
Lots of tennis players in the Royal Box today. Stefan Edberg looked smashing in his blue suit. Also in the Royal Box: Jude Law and Anna Wintour. Not together. I don't think.
Players are ready and Djokovic will serve first.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro will meet in the semifinals of Wimbledon on Friday.
Djokovic, the 2011 champion, hasn't dropped a set in advancing to his 13th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. The 26-year-old Serb defeated No. 7 Tomas Berdych 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals, rallying from two breaks down at 0-3 in the second set.
Del Potro has overcome a knee injury to reach his first Wimbledon semifinal. Like Djokovic, the 24-year-old Argentine hasn't lost a set in the tournament. Del Potro ended a four-match losing streak to David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, beating the Spaniard 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
Djokovic leads the head-to-head 8-3, though Del Potro won their only grass-court match, in the 2012 London Olympics at Wimbledon.