Novak Djokovic will take on Matteo Berrettini for a third straight Wimbledon title on Sunday after fighting off the challenge of young Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
The 22-year-old, playing in his first grand slam semi-final, was the better player for most of the first two sets but could not convert his chances and fell to a 7-6 (3) 7-5 7-5 defeat.
Djokovic has yet to hit top gear this fortnight but he has only dropped one set – his first match of the tournament against British teenager Jack Draper – and is now one win away from equalling Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s record of 20 slam titles and completing three quarters of a calendar Grand Slam.
Standing in his way will be Berrettini, who was superb against Hubert Hurkacz earlier, but this was an object lesson in why Djokovic has been the dominant player of the decade.
He was well off his usual standards to start with, double faulting twice in the third game and dropping serve on a blistering Shapovalov backhand.
The 10th seed’s one-hander is one of the game’s great crowd-pleasing shots, and it has worked brilliantly this tournament, especially in his third-round victory over Andy Murray.
Shapovalov was playing freely in his maiden slam semi-final and won 15 points in a row on serve until he came to serve for it at 5-4.
He recovered well from 0-30 but at 30-30 he missed a forehand with the court gaping, and Djokovic broke back.
It was a huge moment, and was replicated time and again across the remainder of the two hours and 44 minutes they spent on Centre Court.
Djokovic played a shaky tie-break, including a double fault, but Shapovalov did not win a single point on his own serve and ended with a double fault of his own.
Shapovalov had golden chances to break at both 2-1 and 3-2 in the second set with Djokovic at 0-40 and 15-40, but again he could not take them, his spectacular shots choosing the worst moments to misfire.
He had the majority of the crowd behind him, including children from St Matthew Academy in Lewisham, who have been sending him supportive videos.
But it was he who cracked on serve at 5-5, another untimely double fault giving Djokovic the chance to serve for the set, which, unlike his opponent, he did not pass up.
Shapovalov channelled his frustration into an argument with the umpire as he saw his Wimbledon final dreams ebbing away.
Although he was not playing anything like his best, such is the depth of Djokovic’s well of confidence that he was able to raise his level when he needed to, while the opposite was true of his opponent.
Experience plays a huge part in that, of course, and Shapovalov showed more than enough in this match and across the tournament as a whole to indicate he will have many more opportunities to hone a winning mentality on the big stage.
This occasion, though, belonged to Djokovic, the world number one saving three more break points – he fought off 10 of 11 across the match – in the second game of the third set.
Shapovalov at least showed grit of his own on the defensive in the third set, saving break points at 1-1 and 3-3 with terrifically brave hitting – and a couple more tumbles to the turf for Djokovic, who has struggled to keep his feet all fortnight.
The top seed had now found a high level and there were some brilliant exchanges, but Shapovalov’s resistance ran out in the 11th game before Djokovic booked his spot in a 30th slam final.
Earlier in the day, Berrettini powered his way into the Wimbledon final to set up a spectacular sporting double-header for Italy on Sunday.
The 25-year-old from Rome became the first Italian man to reach the SW19 showpiece after a 6-3 6-0 6-7 (3) 6-4 victory over Hurkacz.
The main course may be England’s date with Italy in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday evening, but Berrettini will provide a tasty antipasti when he walks out on Centre Court at 2pm.
And Berrettini hopes he can provide the first half of what could prove to be a ‘Domenica speciale’, or special Sunday, for his home nation.
“I think we deserve it. It’s great day, a great sport day. I’m really happy that together with football now we are one of the biggest sports in Italy,” he said.
“I would say buy a nice TV if you don’t have one already because I think it’s going to be a special Sunday for all of us.
“It’s something crazy to believe for us, obviously let’s say in tennis, because it never happened. So it’s something that nobody expected – me in the first place.
“Then for the football, I mean we didn’t qualify for the World Cup, so after that the job that they did, how hard they worked, the effort that they put, I think they really deserve this final.
“Obviously I’m going to think first about mine. Then, if I have the chance, I’m going to watch them.”
Certainly David Beckham, watching from the royal box, will be desperate not to sit through a similar exhibition of Italian domination at Wembley in two days’ time.
Hurkacz was the man who broke many a heart at Wimbledon on Wednesday when he knocked out eight-time champion Roger Federer, having previously accounted for second seed Daniil Medvedev.
But the Polish 14th seed was simply blown away over the first two sets as he faced the non-stop barrage that is the Berrettini serve.
Hurkacz did fashion a break point early in the opener, but the likeable 24-year-old was unable to press it home as Berrettini held for 3-3.
About half an hour and nine games later a dazed and confused Hurkacz found himself two sets down and staring at the same sort of pasting that he had handed out to Federer.
He did at least manage to make himself part of the semi-final in the third, denying Berrettini the chance to unleash his destructive forehand where possible and taking the tie-break to give the crowd, inevitably now backing the underdog, something to cheer.
But Berrettini, the Queen’s Club champion last month, immediately broke again and reached his maiden grand slam final when Hurkacz’s last return of his mammoth serve floated long.
Hurkacz said: “Matteo played an unbelievable match today. Every single service game he was serving bombs.
“I didn’t have many chances, basically probably zero. So huge congrats for him that he kept such a high level throughout the whole four sets.”