Roger Federer returns a shot against Juan Martin Del Potro. (Clive Brunskill / Getty…)
LONDON -- In a tennis match that lasted about as long as the opening ceremonies at the London Olympics, the irrepressible Roger Federer of Switzerland made his way into the match for the gold medal that he so desperately covets.
Federer overcame a magnificent effort by Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro by being just a tab more magnificent. The final score was 3-6, 7-6 (5), 19-17. It was the longest three-set men's singles match in the modern era, beating the 4 hours and 3 minutes that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic battled in a semifinals match in Madrid in 2009. Federer and Del Potro went 4 hours, 26 minutes.
Federer finally broke through at 17-all -- his second service break of the final set, but the first was matched immediately by Del Potro -- and when the Argentine hit a tired backhand into the net, it was over. It had started shortly after noon in London and ended at 4:50 p.m.
They played 366 points and Federer won 186, or six more than Del Potro. Federer also had 24 aces to 11 for Del Potro and had 64 winners to 51 for Del Potro. Amazingly, they each made 88 errors.
About the only hole in Federer's amazing resume is the gold medal in Olympic singles competition, and he was able to persevere for a chance at that. This would certainly be his last shot, because he will turn 32 in a few months. He had been ousted in previous Olympics by Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and James Blake of the U.S.
Federer is scheduled to play for the gold Sunday against the winner of the Andy Murray-Djokovic match later in the day.
Meet the oldest athlete at the London Olympics
Michael Phelps counts down the final hours of his swimming career
U.S. women defeat New Zealand, 2-0, to reach semifinals in soccer