One of longest, most grueling three-set men’s singles tennis matches in the history of the Olympics was played and won on Friday by Switzerland’s own Roger Federer, who bested Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro in 186 out of the 366 points contested across an unprecedented span of 4 hours and 26 minutes.
Earlier this week, French player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s victory against Canadian Milos Raonic, clocking in at three hours 57 minutes, attracted similar attention for its historic length and yet falls short of Friday’s match by a half hour.
To put that in perspective, the Olympic marathon is typically completed in just over two hours. That means between the first and last points scored, spectators may have watched the 26.2-mile race—twice—and still made it back in time to cheer Federer on towards clinching his first ever medal in a singles event.
Del Potro let slip a tenuous lead to the unrelenting Swiss champion, who rallied from behind to win by a final score of 3-6, 7-6, 19-17.
Federer responded to del Potro’s 11 aces with 24 of his own. Mounting his final, dramatic offensive, Federer outplayed the six-foot-six, tired Argentine toward the end of the protracted third set, which finally broke after 19 games when a double-fault from del Potro gave Federer the advantage.
Sixteen games later, following an unfortunate slew of errors likely effected from his exhaustion, del Potro fell to Federer’s steadier hand.
While a battle for bronze marks the future of his defeated opponent, Federer is scheduled to face home-court favorite Andy Murray, after he beat Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the other semifinal match.
At 31 years-old, Roger Federer is now guaranteed to medal in the men’s tennis singles event—a feat that had yet eluded the four-time Olympian and holder of doubles gold from Beijing along with 17 Grand Slam titles, including seven from Wimbledon and five from the US Open, where three years ago Del Potro had in fact overcome the rarely beaten Swiss.
The struggle for gold will pan out on Sunday. Should Federer win, he will have achieved ultimate success in virtually every venue of the sport.