Nadal had not dropped a set at the tournament until the quarter-finals where he fought back to defeat Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 6-7 (7/9), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Wednesday. Anderson edged John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set of their semifinal Friday, which lasted more than 6 1/2 hours and delayed the start of Nadal vs. Djokovic.
That was still short of the 11 hours and five minutes that Isner took to overcome Nicolas Mahut in their 2010 first-round match. "I mean, it's just who's going to outlast each other", said Anderson, a 32-year-old from South Africa who is seeking his first major trophy. "Just disappointed to lose". Djokovic lost in the final to Andy Murray that year. He reached the final of the US Open previous year before losing to Rafael Nadal. There could be a rematch now.
Anderson will be hoping that is not the fate that awaits him on Sunday when he faces one of the fittest athletes in sport in the shape of either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic - who between them own 29 Grand Slam titles.
The pair faced off for a men's record 52nd time in their careers in the other semifinal, which Djokovic led 6-4 3-6 7-6 (13-11) when play was suspended at 11:03 p.m.
Undaunted by losing his lead and being forced to an extra set, Djokovic saved break points at 4-all and 7-all in the fifth, before breaking Nadal at love to end things.
That recovery process started as soon as he came off Centre Court at 7:46 p.m. on Friday.
He and Isner suggested one possible compromise: a tiebreaker at 12-all. "We want to see Rafa!"
Isner and Anderson were no strangers to each other, facing off all the way back to their college days, when Isner defeated Anderson, who played at IL, in the 2007 NCAA Men's Team Final.
But this one was as competitive and close as can be. Not a tremendous amount of memorable shotmaking, either, save for some impressive return winners.
But the serving was something else. Both wore a white baseball hat, Anderson with the brim in front, Isner with his turned backward.
Anderson was praised after expressing his sympathy for Isner in a humble post-match interview and later tweeted: "Thank you John for being an incredible sportsman and friend".
"The effort they both put in and the performance and the guts, the way they competed - a lot to be proud of", said Justin Gimelstob, one of Isner's coaches. And he held the upper hand Friday after saving three set points in the gripping tiebreak.
The third set appeared to mark a key turning point in the match, with Isner rallying from a break down and then also coming back from a mini-break down to win the tiebreaker after Anderson committed a costly double fault on set point.
As ESPN reports, Djokovic hadn't won a major since the 2016 French Open, and became so frustrated with his performance in the intervening years that he "spoke about skipping the grass-court circuit".
Anderson had break points at 7-7, 10-10 and 17-17 before finally earning the decisive break - drawing a massive roar from the crowd. Two points later, Isner held with a forehand passing victor on the run and let his momentum carry him directly to his sideline chair for the ensuing changeover.
John is such a great guy and I really feel for him. My left heel is killing me.
He never got a break point in the fifth set.
The world number one came roaring back and broke Djokovic's serve in the fourth game, as the Serb sent a forehand into the net. Isner served first forcing Anderson to have to serve from behind.
Soon, they were meeting for an embrace.