Photo: Mike Hewitt (Getty)

The match was glowing white-hot for hours, but in the fourth set, the Wimbledon semifinal between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal began to cool off. Federer got an early break to go up 2-1, and a sense of the inevitable washed over the lawn as both players traded holds, Nadal’s traction on the match clearly slipping, his self-flagellations increasing in frequency. Then Federer applied some serious pressure on the Nadal serve at 3-5, threatening to take the match a game earlier than scheduled. That woke Nadal up.

Serving in a dicey deuce situation, he yanked his rival corner to corner with two nuclear groundstrokes, then finished it off with a soft drop volley.

Later in that same game, Nadal would fend off Federer’s first two match points—the first with a serve down the middle, the second with a slice out wide. When the match shifted back onto Federer’s serve, Nadal did enough damage to get the game to deuce, threatening to level the set again. Federer found his third match point; the result was this doozy of a rally. Though Roger had several opportunities to land his death blow in this point, he chose to play them conservatively. A scrambling Rafa will almost always make you pay for playing it safe.

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Then, on Federer’s fourth match point, Nadal survived a classic serve-forehand one-two punch, and punished Federer for leaving his approach shot too shallow in the court.

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The Swiss found some killer serves to close out his rival on his fifth try, 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, but it was an fiendishly tense conclusion to an entertaining, if patchy match.