A record-breaking day at Wimbledon ended with the second men’s semi-final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic falling foul of the 11pm curfew.
After the epic six hours and 36 minutes semi-final encounter between Kevin Anderson and John Isner, top seed Nadal did not hit the first serve of his match against 12th-seeded Djokovic until 8.09pm.
That gave two players who have contested some of the most gruelling matches in tennis history less than three hours or the prospect of completing the match on Saturday.
In the end, and to the surprise of no one, they did not come close to finishing after two hours and 54 minutes of play on Friday night.
With Djokovic leading 6-4 3-6 7-6 (11-9) it became the first match since the Centre Court roof was added in 2009 to be stopped due to the strict curfew imposed by Merton Council to avoid disruption to local residents.
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Andy Murray’s third-round match against Marcos Baghdatis in 2012 pushed the limit to 11.02pm and the time was exactly the same when Nadal netted a backhand to give Djokovic a two sets to one lead.
The announcement of the curtailment of play was greeted with understandable disappointment by the crowd, the vast majority of whom had stayed as a contest more than worthy of a Wimbledon final played out in front of them.
But only one of these men can move through to take on Anderson on Sunday, and they will resume on Saturday, when ticket holders for the women’s final will get an unexpected treat.
The match will get back under way at 1pm, tournament organisers said, and it will be played under the roof again, given it began in those conditions.
That is likely to delay the start of women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber, which is scheduled to commence at 2pm.
It is kind of amusing that this international sporting event, with two of the sport’s all-time greats battling it out to reach the #Wimbledon final, and the eyes of the world on it, will probably have to stop tonight because of a local council curfew.
— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) July 13, 2018
Boos from the Centre Court crowd as play is suspended due to the 11pm curfew #Wimbledon
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) July 13, 2018
"Hello. Is that Merton Council? About the 11pm curfew…" #Wimbledon
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) July 13, 2018
Novak Djokovic takes the third 7-6(9) over Nadal at 11:02 pm and play is suspended due to#Wimbledon curfew.
It will resume at 1 pm, which means it will almost certainly delay the 2 pm women's final, which is pretty damn annoying for a Slam (and unprecedented in recent years?)
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) July 13, 2018
Look you guys, every major has its quirks.
The Australian Open has its weird cooked tuna sushi rolls. The French Open let us graffiti the walls. Wimbledon has an 11pm curfew. The US Open has its Twitter account.
To love, you have to learn to accept.
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) July 13, 2018
Only seven of the previous 51 meetings between Nadal and Djokovic had been won by the player who lost the opening set, so it was a major boost to the Serb’s hopes when he took the opener.
But world No.1 broke twice in the second set and fended off more break points to level the match.
With the time approaching 10pm, that made it highly unlikely there would be a winner on Friday and both players knew how important that third set was likely to be.
The momentum was with Nadal but Djokovic’s serve kept him just about out of danger.
A stunning tiebreak was a fitting conclusion to the day’s play.
After recovering from a poor volley that left him 4-2 down, Nadal did his best to pummel Djokovic off the court with his forehand, but the Serbian would not yield.
Nadal will rue missing two returns, while he got a taste of his own medicine on the second chance when Djokovic feathered a drop shot over the net.
Djokovic missed a return as the clock ticked to 11pm but on the final lung-busting rally it was Nadal who faltered.
Earlier, South African eighth seed Anderson outlasted American ninth seed Isner 7-6 (8-6) 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (9-11) 6-4 26-24 in the second-longest match in professional tennis history – behind only Isner’s record 11-hours and five-minute first-round Wimbledon triumph over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in 2010.