Roger Federer reached a record eighth Wimbledon final Friday and revealed that boyhood hero Pete Sampras, whose record of seven titles he can equal on Sunday, has kept him inspired even in his darkest days.
The 30-year-old Swiss defeated world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to make the final.
Victory on Sunday will allow him to reclaim the world number one ranking and clinch a 17th career Grand Slam crown.
Federer won the last of his 16 majors at the 2010 Australian Open, and two successive quarter-final exits at Wimbledon in 2010 and 2011 had the career obituary writers ready to pounce.
But Sampras's dogged enthusiasm in his eventual fruitless quest to add to his seven Wimbledon titles has kept Federer motivated.
"Everybody knows what a hero he is to me and how much I admire what he's been able to achieve," said Federer of Sampras, whose last two Wimbledon campaigns ended in a fourth round defeat to the Swiss in 2001 and second round exit to George Bastl in the following year.
"He won seven, which is just incredible, particularly in the times he played against all the big servers, when things were a bit more unpredictable. So I'm very proud to have a shot of equaling Pete.
"I particularly remember obviously the end of his career, because before that I was following Becker and Edberg more.
"But I admired how he stuck around, how he tried to win maybe one more, maybe two more. It was a big surprise and a shock that I was able to break his five Wimbledons in a row.
"For me it was an inspiration to see somebody, while I was coming up, dominating the game and breaking the all time Grand Slam record."
Djokovic, who was bidding to reach a fifth successive Grand Slam final, had defeated Federer six times in their last seven meetings.
But Federer, playing in a record 32nd major semi-final, was not to be denied as he buried the heartache of having been knocked out in the quarter-finals in the last two years.
He also took his record of semi-final victories to eight out of eight at the All England Club.
The Centre Court roof was closed for the first semi-final on Friday and Federer, who kept his unforced errors to just 10 compared to Djokovic's 21, believes the conditions may have favoured his attacking game.
"I think the surface obviously does make our match quite different. We barely had rallies in the first couple of sets, which was surprising for me to see," said Federer.
"We did a lot of first strike tennis; a lot of service winners out there. That obviously changes the momentum. Doesn't make it maybe as physical. It's more explosive. Maybe a touch unpredictable.
"I think overall the surface made the match play differently and potentially in my favour.
"I was able to be very aggressive, particularly once I did get into the third set where I thought we both played our very best. Now looking back, that was obviously the key to the match."