Five months after knee surgery and a month shy of his 35th birthday, Roger Federer is two wins away from an unprecedented eighth Wimbledon crown.
Only Milos Raonic and, most likely, home hope Andy Murray stand in Federer’s way of an elusive 18th grand slam title after the ageless maestro’s magical five-set comeback win over Marin Cilic.
Defying Father Time, an inspired opponent and an injury-plagued build-up, Federer miraculously recovered from two sets down to deny Cilic 6-7 (4-7) 4-6 6-3 7-6 (11-9) 6-3 on another history-making day for the incomparable Swiss.
“The dream continues,” Federer said after saving three match points to become the oldest grand slam semi-finalist since Ken Rosewall in 1974.
“It was an emotional win, (as) always when you come back from two sets to love, but because of the season that I’ve had. It’s wonderful.
“To test the body, to be out there again, fighting, being in a physical battle and winning it is an unbelievable feeling.”
Despite his giant stature and unquestionable grasscourt pedigree, Federer was written off as a title force before arriving for his 18th Wimbledon tilt.
Knee issues aside, missing last month’s French Open with a back injury – breaking his record run of a 65 consecutive major appearances – left the father of four with just a dozen matches under his belt since January, the most troubling preparation of his 20-year professional career.
But he dispelled any fitness concerns in the most emphatic fashion to somehow conjure his 10th win from two sets down and surpass Martina Navratilova as the most prolific winner of grand slam matches tennis has ever seen.
“I was just very happy that I actually felt as strong as I did, mentally and physically when I was down two sets to love,” Federer said.
“Marin’s such a wonderful player. I knew I was in so much trouble in the third and again the fourth.
“It was about staying in the match and getting a little bit lucky, and that’s what happened.
Next up is sixth seed Raonic on Friday in a rematch of their 2014 semi-final, which the Swiss won in straight sets, before the Canadian hired three-time champion John McEnroe to add finesse and grasscourt guile to his explosive serving game.
Federer will carry a perfect 10 from 10 record into his record-equalling 11th semi-final at the All England Club.
Raonic, who ousted Novak Djokovic’s third-round conqueror Sam Querrey in four sets in his quarter-final, is respectful of the mighty Swiss – but quietly confident too.
“I look forward to it a lot. Definitely a great opportunity,” he said.
“Two years have passed since I played him here in the semi-finals. I’m happy that I have another shot at him.”
If he can find a way past Federer, as he did in Brisbane this year, Raonic may yet get another shot at Andy Murray too, after falling to the Scot in five sets in this year’s Australian Open semi-finals.
Like Federer, Murray had to survive a five-set scare to reach his seventh semi-final and join the legendary Bjorn Borg on 51 wins at the All England Club with a 7-6 (12-10) 6-1 3-6 4-6 6-1 victory over spirited French 12th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The 2013 champion is a hot favourite to beat Tomas Berdych – the Czech 10th seed, who ousted French surprise packet Lucas Pouille 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 6-2 in their last-eight battle – in Friday’s second semi-final.