By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Mocking the aging process, Roger Federer will attempt to become the oldest Wimbledon champion in the professional era by beating Novak Djokovic on Sunday in a repeat of last year's final.
When the Swiss walked off the hallowed Centre Court, beaten but proud, after being denied an eighth title by the Serb in a five-set thriller, many thought they had seen his last hurrah.
Few imagined he would return a year later, aged nearly 34, playing arguably the best tennis of his spectacular career.
He has not just reached his 10th Wimbledon final, though, he has arrived as if transported by a magic carpet, conceding only one set, one service game and on Friday producing a jaw-dropping demonstration of his sublime game when crushing Andy Murray.
Federer, who won the last of his 17 grand slam titles here against Murray in 2012, said he was applauded all the way to the locker room after beating Murray 7-5 7-5 6-4.
Should he beat world number one Djokovic on Sunday in their 40th career meeting and win a record-extending Wimbledon title -- he currently shares the feat with Pete Sampras -- they will probably hand him the keys to the All England Club.
"I need to keep it up for one more match to really make it the perfect couple of weeks," said Federer, who would be three years older than Arthur Ashe when he won the title in 1975.
Whether the second seed can reach the same dizzy heights he achieved against Murray will be the key to the outcome -- anything less will probably not be enough against a player eyeing a third Wimbledon title and ninth grand slam crown.
World number three Murray, who also played superbly on Friday, was simply powerless as 56 winners, including 20 aces, flew past him from all directions on Centre Court.
Remarkably, considering Federer's full bore attacking tennis in the semi-final, the Swiss made only 11 unforced errors.
It was a combination that no player, not even the elastic-limbed Djokovic, would have been able to resist.
"I'm just able to figure it out very quickly on the grass," Federer said of a display so good it was almost surreal.
Djokovic, who would equal his coach Boris Becker's three Wimbledon titles, trails Federer 19-20 in head-to-heads and knows playing him at Wimbledon is the ultimate challenge.
"This is where he loves to play. This is where he plays his best tennis. The Centre Court of Wimbledon, seven titles. It's his court. He loves it," said the Serb.
"He usually rises up to the occasion. He's always playing his toughest when it matters the most. That's why he's a big champion. We all know how good he is. He's the greatest ever. There are not enough compliments for what he does."
Mutual respect will be put on hold, though, on Sunday when the Centre Court crowd, whose allegiance was split when Murray faced Federer, will be cheering loudest for the Swiss.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris)