WIMBLEDON, England – For several years, a trickle of promising young players has bubbled up, threatened to erode the top layer of men’s tennis and receded again. Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal of Spain have held firm, allowing room only for Novak Djokovic of Serbia, then for Andy Murray of Britain.
Only twice in the past 37 Grand Slam tournaments, going back more than nine years, has someone outside that Big Four won a title: Stan Wawrinka at this year’s Australian Open and Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open. No place surrenders to tradition as reluctantly as Wimbledon, where one of the Big Four has won the past 11 times. It will be a 12th Sunday, when Djokovic and Federer meet at Centre Court in the final.
On a warm and windy Friday, Djokovic and Federer were presented with two more contenders, a pair of 23-year-olds rising through the rankings.
Djokovic, who is seeded No. 1, beat back the first challenger, No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, to reach Wimbledon’s final for the second year in a row. The rollicking 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (9-7) victory tightened as it went, not secured until after Djokovic reversed three set points and clinched the match with a charging, cross-court forehand that tipped the net and stayed in.
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Federer, a seven-time Wimbledon champion who is seeded fourth, then deconstructed the hard-serving game of No. 8 Milos Raonic of Canada 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. It felt like a clinic, devoid of emotion or drama.
Djokovic and Federer will meet in a major final for the first time in seven years. Federer, 32, owns an 18-16 record against the 27-year-old Djokovic, winning two of their three meetings this season.
“This is where he has the most success in his career, winning many titles,” Djokovic said of Federer, who has a record 17 major titles overall. “He’s been looking very good throughout the whole tournament, very dominant with his matches. I’m sure that he wants to win this title as much as I do.”
Djokovic, who has six major titles, won Wimbledon in 2011. Federer won in 2012, the last time he was in a final at a Grand Slam event. Djokovic reached the Wimbledon final in 2013 but lost to Murray in an emotional straight-sets coronation for the British champion.
On Thursday, Dimitrov beat Murray in a straight-sets quarterfinal, lifting himself to the precipice of his first Grand Slam final. Dimitrov has long been compared to Federer, with his fluid, all-around play.
“The younger guys, we want to come on that stage,” Dimitrov said after beating Murray. “We strive for this. I think we’re thirsty for that. We want to prove ourselves. We also want to prove to the big guys that we’re around the corner.”
Dimitrov and Djokovic were scrambling toward the net on the match’s final point. It ended when Djokovic tipped a shot off the net and just inside the line. The crowd rose for a standing ovation, the sentiment directed to the entertainment and effort both men provided.
“You never know what would have happened if I had taken that fourth set,” Dimitrov said.
An eighth Wimbledon title would unlock Federer from Pete Sampras and William Renshaw atop the list for most in men’s singles.
“You’ve got to love the game, because if you don’t love it, then it’s just going to be too hard,” Federer said.
• In the women’s final Saturday, sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic will play No. 13 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. Bouchard is the lone woman to reach the semifinals in the year’s first three majors.