Roger Federer needed 4 hours, 26 minutes to advance to the gold-medal match at Wimbledon, surviving an epic 19-17 final set against Juan Martin Del Potro in their semifinal match at the Olympic tournament. It was the longest three-set match in the history of the sport.
To put Federer's marathon 3-6, 7-6 (5), 19-17 win in comparison, another all-time great, Michael Phelps, has spent less than 90 minutes competing in his Olympic career.
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The world No. 1 hadn't broken Del Potro the entire match until he got one at 9-9 in the third set. Del Potro immediately broke back and the match progressed on serve until 17-17, when Federer took a 0-40 lead and closed out the break two points later. He went down 15-30 while serving to serve out the match and failed to convert his first match point. Then Del Potro netted a backhand and Federer had his epic victory, one that was reminiscent of a 2009 Wimbledon final win against Andy Roddick.
Del Potro, ranked No. 9 in the world, is the only man outside tennis' big three of Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, to have won a major in the past seven years. That 2009 U.S. Open victory came at the hands of Federer, who was seeking his sixth in a row. Since returning from an injury last year, the Argentine has struggled with top-10 opponents but particularly Federer, who has defeated him in all five of their 2012 meetings, including twice at Grand Slams. Del Potro failed to hold a two-set lead on Federer at the French Open.
He betrayed no such Federer slump on Thursday. Del Potro was aggressive throughout the match, even as he fought to break Federer for the first time since 3-3 in the first. Early in the third set, Federer had won 24 of 30 points on his serve. Del Potro didn't waver, especially when Federer earned that first break.
The third set was the second-longest of the Olympic tournament. Earlier this week, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won 25-23 in the third set against Milos Raonic.
Federer will play in Sunday's final against the winner of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. It will be the first time in his career he'll be playing for a singles gold. He and Stanislas Wawrinka won the doubles gold at the Beijing Olympics.
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