WIMBLEDON, England — All fortnight Wimbledon had been abuzz with talk of young guns and future stars — the teens and barely 20-somethings who brandished the big serves and go-for-broke tactics.
But just as it seemed a new world order was at hand in men’s tennis, top-seeded Novak Djokovic and grass-court master Roger Federer reared up to snuff out any thought of insurrection and secure spots in Sunday’s championship.
It will be their 35th career meeting (Federer holds an 18-16 edge) but only their second on grass, reprising the 2012 Wimbledon semifinals that Federer won in four sets.
And it ensures that a member of the sport’s “big four” — Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, who have combined to win 17 of the last 18 Grand Slam titles — will extend their chokehold on the sport’s chief spoils.
“It was always going to be hard to get rid of all four guys at the same time, let’s just be honest,” said Federer, asked about the changing-of-the guard that was held at bay Friday.
Djokovic, 27, Wimbledon’s 2011 champion and last year’s runner-up, was first to secure his spot in Sunday’s final, defeating Grigor Dimitrov, the 23-year-Bulgarian who had humbled defending champion Andy Murray in straight sets one round earlier.
In a muscular match that saw both players lose their footing multiple times on bare patches along the baselines, Djokovic prevailed, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (9-7), to reach his third Wimbledon final in the past four years.
With a victory Sunday, the Serb would overtake Nadal as No. 1 in the world. Moreover, he would snap an unhappy pattern of reaching Grand Slam finals only to stumble.
“It’s mental in the end of the day,” said Djokovic, who hired three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker to help improve his winning percentage in Grand Slam finals. “You have to be able to be in the top of your game, mentally fresh and motivated, calm and composed.”
The 32-year-old Federer was even more efficient in dispatching 23-year-old Milos Raonic, the 6-foot-5 Canadian whose serve had felled 19-year-old phenom Nick Kyrgios, who ousted world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the previous round.
At an age when many pros have retired, Federer, who has won a men’s record 17 Grand Slam titles, has played these last two weeks as if reborn.
He entered Friday’s semifinal having lost his serve just once all tournament. And he kept that record intact against Raonic, cruising to a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory that was never in doubt, breaking one of the sport’s biggest servers in the opening game.
Though Raonic finished with 17 aces to Federer’s six, it was Federer who dictated with his serve.
It was a sunny, dry 80 degrees when Djokovic and Dimitrov took Centre Court. Each had a former Wimbledon champion in his corner. Djokovic was urged on by Becker and Dimitrov by his pensive girlfriend, 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova.
With Djokovic landing his first 19 serves and Dimitrov getting off to a nervous start in his first Grand Slam semifinal, the opening set whizzed by in 27 minutes.
The young Bulgarian steadied himself to level the match at one set each, taking advantage of a dip in Djokovic’s play.
They are two of the game’s more agile and athletic players, equally explosive on offense and defense. But both ended up skidding, slipping and even falling on court as they lunged for saves and stab volleys where the grass had given way to dirt.
Dimitrov played a poor third-set tiebreak to fall behind two sets to one.
But with three chances to force a fifth set, he couldn’t hold off Djokovic, who threw every tactic he had — including a surprising serve-and-volley — to fend off three set points and close the match in just more than three hours.
Djokovic’s customary post-match debrief with his coach was put on hold, however, with Becker rushing off to watch Germany’s World Cup match against France.
Federer has precious few distinctions to add to his résumé. But no man has won eight Wimbledon championships; his idol Pete Sampras was stalled at seven.
Since arriving at Wimbledon, Federer has played with laser-like focus, efficient in his movements, pinpoint on his serve, precise in his strategy. The back ailment that bothered him these past two years has calmed. He has adapted to traveling with his wife and their two sets of twins. And he has his own former Wimbledon champion as an adviser, two-time victor Stefan Edberg.
“My game’s back to where I hoped it would be from one year ago,” said Federer, whose last Grand Slam was here on Centre Court in 2012.
Note: Three American teens reached the semifinals of Wimbledon’s boys’ championships: Noah Rubin, Taylor Harry Fritz and Stefan Kozlov.