Novak Djokovic withstood a ferocious onslaught from Juan Martin Del Potro to subdue the Argentine 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3 in a titanic Wimbledon semi-final on Friday.
The top seed needed all his skill and fighting spirit to tame the eighth-seeded Del Potro who made light of his knee injury to keep the world number one on court for four hours 43 minutes, the longest semi-final ever seen at Wimbledon. It beat the previous record set by Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl in 1989 (four hours and one minute).
"It was one of the best matches I've been a part of, one of the most exciting. It was so close," said a hugely relieved Djokovic.
I could not separate us, apart from when I was 2-1 up and a break up, and I dropped serve. That's why he's a grand slam champion. He came up with some top shots... credit to him. I'm very proud to go through.
"When I lost the fourth set of course it was disappointing because I was close to winning and didn't capitalise. He came up with some big forehands. I was ready to go five sets. I was able to stay tough and get through in the end."
Matching each point
Del Potro, who had defeated the Serb for the Olympic bronze medal at Wimbledon last year, had matched Djokovic blow for blow in the first set but had to bat back a break point in the sixth game to stay on level terms.
At 6-5, Djokovic stepped it up, a backhand from off his toes landing in the corner before a backhand off-balance from the Argentine sailed long.
The Serb, playing in his fourth successive Wimbledon semi-final, sensed blood and a wide forehand from the suddenly besieged Del Potro gave the world number one the opener.
Djokovic was rewarded for his positive approach. His 14 winners comfortably trumped the meagre four that the eighth seed, still with his left knee heavily-strapped, could manage.
Del Potro called for the doctor after slipping down 3-2 in the second set, but the consultation didn't remedy his problems against the top seed as he immediately had to fend off four break points. However, buoyed by his defiance, Del Potro broke for a 4-3 edge.
Del Potro just about backed it up for 5-3 before he went on to level the tie on a sun-baked Centre Court, a picture-perfect drop shot followed by an unreturned serve.
Djokovic fought off a break point in the fifth game of the third set and two more in the seventh before the Argentine had to save three set points in the 12th, the last courtesy of a 90mph winner.
But Djokovic cruised through the tiebreak with Del Potro's confidence and challenge shattered in an instant when the 6ft 6in (1.98m) giant netted an easy smash on the sixth point.
However, Del Potro wasn't finished and brought the crowd to their feet by breaking back for 4-4 and saving two match points in the breaker, the first at the end of a punishing 24-stroke exchange.
In the decider the Argentine cracked to trail 3-5. Djokovic saved another break point as he served for the match in the ninth game before he claimed his epic win with a huge forehand.