Novak Djokovic will contest his sixth Wimbledon final after coming through a stern examination from Roberto Bautista Agut.
The world No 1 ground down the Spaniard 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 and will face one of his two great rivals on Sunday.
Bautista Agut thought little of his chances of making it this far at Wimbledon, arranging his stag do for this week. But his six friends flew back from Ibiza and were in his box along with fiancee Ana Bodi Tortosa.
Novak Djokovic will now play either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final
Novak Djokovic broke early on in the match, going on to take the first set comfortably
He hits his forehand with an unusual old-school ‘eastern grip’ that makes the ball shoot flat and low, especially on grass, and Djokovic looked rushed and frustrated as his opponent mounted a fightback in the second and third sets.
The turning point of the match came in the third set with Djokovic leading up a break but 30-40 down on his serve. There followed a 45-shot rally - the longest recorded in the 14 years since IBM began recording statistics here at Wimbledon.
At times these two seemed like damned souls in Dante’s Inferno, doomed to hit crosscourt backhands for all eternity.
The match began with Bautista Agut hitting his 89th forehand winner of the tournament, lashing a Djokovic first serve back past him down the line.
But that was an anomaly in an opening set Djokovic dominated against an opponent clearly nervous at playing his first Grand Slam semi final.
The 32-year-old Serb was moving forward a lot and enjoying reasonable success at the net given he is not a natural volleyer.
The number one seed's form dropped in the second set, and Bautista Agut leveled the match
It would have been easy for Djokovic to settle for being the best baseliner of all time but over the last few years he has worked to improve his volleying game and that was vital here, as he won 42 out of 53 points at the net.
But Bautista Agut held his nerve well and after a Djokovic hold at the start of the second set he won 11 of the next 12 points. His forehand emerged from the hibernation into which it had retreated since the first point of the match and he crashed two winners to break for a 2-1 lead.
There was no noticeable change in Bautista Agut’s demeanour but he looked far more comfortable in the rallies. Djokovic’s aggression had tailed off and he the match was suddenly being played more on his opponent’s terms.
The Serbian was pressing too much now, frustrated by the defensive wall Bautista Agut had erected.
Taken to deuce at 4-2 Djokovic jogged to his bag and dug around among his rackets, searching for the right string tension to counter his resurgent opponent.
Novak Djokovic rallied to take the third set, despite Roberto Bautista Agut battling all the way
At set point the Spaniard got a stroke of luck with a flick off the top of the net. What a superb set from Bautista Agut and what a strange sight to see Djokovic confronted with an opponent who appeared to have the better of him from the back of the court.
Djokovic was looking seriously uncomfortable now, pulling out of his service motions almost like a golfer with yips and then double faulting.
It was nip and tuck stuff now but the Serbian won two net exchanges to earn a break point and a third to take it, roaring his celebration to a less than responsive crowd.
Djokovic saved two break points in the next game, the second with that 45-shot rally that had the crowd openly laughing at the absurd consistency. After countless consecutive crosscourt backhands Djokovic ripped one down the line and cupped his ear to the crowd.
As the fourth set began Bautista Agut saved three break points and then held with a quite exceptional backhand volley as he came in behind his serve for the first time in the match.
But Djokovic was back to his form of the first set and two breaks quickly followed.
He then made light work of the waning Spaniard in the fourth set to reach the final on Sunday
It looked as though the Spaniard’s fight was finally ebbing away but he made his last stand as Djokovic served for the match at 5-2 but on his fifth match point the world No 1 struck the final blow.
He threw his head back and roared. He could rest at last, while Bautista Agut can start to think about a well-deserved holiday. I hear Ibiza is lovely this time of year.