Wimbledon champion Roger Federer beat Juan Martin del Potro in the longest match in Olympic tennis history, advancing to the final at the London Games.
The top-ranked Swiss right-hander defeated Del Potro, the No. 8 seed from Argentina, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 19-17 on Centre Court at the All England Club. He advances to his first Olympic final to play Serbia’s Novak Djokovic or Britain’s Andy Murray in two days.
Serena Williams of the U.S. and Maria Sharapova of Russia, the winners of the last two Grand Slam tournament titles, reached tomorrow’s women’s final with straight-set victories.
Federer’s match lasted 4 hours, 26 minutes and broke the mark of 3:57 set when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France beat Milos Roanic of Canada 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 earlier this week. The third set of that match took three hours, 17 minutes longer than the final set today.
“Very tough from start to finish,” Federer said. “It was very physical at the end and so mental. I feel bad and horrible for Juan Martin but he can be very proud.”
It was also the longest three-set men’s singles match since tennis turned professional in 1968, besting the 4:03 contest between Djokovic and Spain’s Rafael Nadal in Madrid in 2009.
“It’s tough to speak now,” Del Potro said. “It’s not an easy situation. Someone always has to win these matches and today it was him.”
Although Federer, 30, won a gold medal in doubles in Beijing in 2008 with Stanislas Wawrinka, he’s never won any Olympic medal in singles in three previous appearances. His best finish was the quarterfinals four years ago.
Federer and Del Potro both dominated on their serves, with only one service break in the first two sets. That came from Del Potro and allowed him to take the opening set. In the second-set tiebreaker, Federer opened a 4-1 lead.
Five service break chances in the final set were wasted before Federer broke for a 10-9 lead. Del Potro, 23, stayed in the match by winning the next game on Federer’s serve.
After squandering three break points at 14-14, Federer broke for an 18-17 lead. He then finished the victory on his second match point as Del Potro put a shot into the net.
“Serving against the match so many times, it’s hard and it takes its toll,” Federer said. “I liked my attitude today.”
Federer is playing his first tournament since winning a record-tying seventh Wimbledon title last month. It was his record-extending 17th major victory.
Del Potro lost to Federer in the quarterfinals of this year’s Australian and French opens. He defeated Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final for his only Grand Slam title.
Williams, the Wimbledon women’s champion, routed Australian Open winner and No. 1 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-1, 6- 2. The match took 63 minutes, less time than both the second and third sets of the Federer-Del Potro match.
Williams, 30, won the Olympic doubles title with her sister Venus, in 2000 and 2008.
Sharapova, playing in her first Olympics, advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 win against fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.
“It’s incredible, not only to be part of this event and be an Olympian, but to put yourself in with an opportunity to go for gold,” said Sharapova, who carried the Russian flag during the opening ceremony a week ago.
Sharapova, 25, won her first French Open title in June to complete a career Grand Slam.
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