Tomas Berdych yesterday got his reward for knocking out the great Roger Federer. The Czech No 12 seed, quarter-final conqueror of the six-time Wimbledon champion, reached tomorrow's final by again thumbing his nose at the rankings, dispatching the third seed, Novak Djokovic, in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.
There was at first a slight whiff of "before the Lord Mayor's Show" about the afternoon's first semi-final on Centre Court, with almost everyone in the crowd, and even initially in the BBC commentary box, treating the match as an appetiser before Murray v Nadal. It was always likely to be a tasty appetiser, though, with the 6ft 5in, 24-year-old Berdych intent on reaching his first Grand Slam final, and Djokovic, a year younger, no less intent on reaching the Wimbledon final for the first time.
The former prevailed by playing splendidly, although Djokovic made his task easier with some uncharacteristic errors, none sloppier than a wildly missed overhead to save a second break point when the all-important second set was tied at 5-5. It would be only slightly harsh to say that a Belgrade grandmother could have made the shot; the equivalent of a footballer missing an open goal, or a golfer a 12-inch putt.
That, of course, is what big-occasion nerves do even to a player ranked No 3 in the world, even in his seventh Grand Slam semi-final, even against a player he had beaten twice in two previous meetings, both times in straight sets. His Czech opponent, by contrast, despite a lesser record at the business end of tournaments, seemed almost preternaturally cool, not visibly letting the occasion get to him until he netted a straightforward forehand on set point in the second-set tie-break. Indeed Berdych held and lost four successive set points in what was one of the classic Centre Court tie-breaks, which included two of the most spectacular rallies yet seen in these championships.
The first, with Djokovic serving to stay in the set, was gasp-inducing, not least because it ended in controversy, with a hapless line judge mistakenly calling out a perfect Djokovic defensive lob. The Serb challenged successfully, but with transparent unfairness then had to replay the point. If Sepp Blatter was perchance watching, the Fifa president might have noted that in ruling where a ball lands in relation to a line, video technology alone is not enough; it needs to be properly administered.
Djokovic, with most of the crowd now rallying to his cause, did wonderfully to claw back those set points and gain his own, but cruelly then double-faulted to go two sets down, whereupon he incurred a Code of Conduct warning for angrily smashing his racket against his chair. He tried to carry the same passion into the third set but his energy and self-belief seemed to wilt, and a comeback never looked likely.
Berdych, who becomes the first Czech to reach a Wimbledon men's final since Ivan Lendl in 1987, now faces the challenge of going one better than his illustrious compatriot. "He achieved much, much more than me," said Berdych of Lendl. "But the things need to start somewhere." Tomorrow on Centre Court would be a better place than any for those things to start.
As for a disconsolate Djokovic, he was significantly more gracious about Berdych's winning performance than Federer had been a couple of days earlier. "He's just a better player today on the court," he said. "I definitely didn't take my chances and he used it, so he deserved to win."