CreditClive Brunskill/Getty Images
Here are some key story lines:
[You can watch Friday’s match on ESPN. You can follow the live scoring here.]
First set | Federer 3, Nadal 3
The servers are in control so far.
It has been smooth sailing for the server in the first six games. Nadal surprisingly came into the match with more aces than Federer, 47-42. Nadal’s coach, Carlos Moya, has focused on improving the serve and shortening points. Federer has four aces so far and has lost only three points in his three service games. Nadal has lost only two points on his serve.
Unsurprisingly, Centre Court’s Royal Box is full of notable names for this match. They include golfers Gary Player and Nick Faldo; the TV personalities David Attenborough and Bear Grylls; the actors Eric Bana, Hugh Grant, Jude Law and Damian Lewis; the singer Leona Lewis; and the soccer coach Alex Ferguson.
It has been the summer of Roger and Rafa.
Tennis fans have been gifted two long-awaited matches between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — at the French Open last month and at Wimbledon on Friday.
Their semifinal at the All England Club will be the 40th meeting of their careers. Nadal won No. 39, a French Open semifinal, to improve his record against Federer to 24-15. Before that match, Federer had won their previous six meetings, all on hardcourts. They have played only three times on grass — all of them Wimbledon finals, none since 2008.
You might remember that match.
Court speed may benefit Nadal.
One word has been bandied about frequently to describe the courts at Wimbledon this year: slow.
Top grass-court players like Federer and Petra Kvitova and big servers like Milos Raonic and Karolina Pliskova have all commented on the pace of the courts.
A slower court means fewer aces and longer rallies. Case in point, the earlier semifinal between Djokovic and Bautista included a 45-shot rally from the baseline. Martina Navratilova noted the number of players better known for clay-court prowess to reach the later rounds at Wimbledon.
One such player was Guido Pella, 29, who was a quarterfinalist despite only winning two matches at the All England Club in his career before this year. He said the courts were “much slower” than in the past.
“I think the matches are more playable than in other years. You can play from the baseline without any problem. It was much easier for us to move, to play like a clay court.”
“Like a clay court” should be music to the ears of Nadal, the greatest clay player in history.
He, of course, hasn’t noticed a difference.
“Honestly, the surface for me is the same as always,” he said.
The winner will face Novak Djokovic.
Whoever wins on Friday has another tough task ahead on Sunday in the men’s final. The top seed and defending champion, Novak Djokovic, booked his spot in the final with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut.
“I had to dig deep of course, it’s the semifinals,” Djokovic told the BBC after the match. “Roberto was playing his first semifinal in a Grand Slam, but regardless of that, he was not really overwhelmed with the stadium and with the occasion. He played really well.”
Djokovic, a four-time champion at the All England Club, is 2-1 against both Federer and Nadal at Wimbledon. The Djokovic-Nadal rivalry is the most contested in the open era, with 54 matches. Djokovic leads 28-26, including victories in the 2019 Australian Open final and the 2018 Wimbledon semifinals.
Djokovic has played Federer 47 times and beaten him in 25 of those matches. Federer has not defeated Djokovic since 2015.
Get used to hearing about 2008.
Federer, 37, and Nadal, 33, have not played at Wimbledon in the 11 years since Nadal defeated Federer, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7, in a final that is considered one of the greatest matches in tennis history. A book and a documentary about the match are called “Strokes of Genius.”
It took 4 hours 48 minutes, and remains the longest Wimbledon men’s final. It was interrupted twice by rain. It was so dark by the end, around 9:15 p.m. local time, that Nadal said, “In the last game, I didn’t see nothing.”
The match was widely viewed at the time as a passing of the torch. The No. 2 Nadal had routed the No. 1 Federer on clay in the French Open final a few weeks before, but dethroning Federer on grass was a huge step in Nadal’s rapid ascension. Federer had beaten Nadal in the Wimbledon final the two previous years. Nadal became the first man since Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. The next month, Nadal supplanted Federer at No. 1 in the rankings.
Ultimately, though, the torch wasn’t passed so much as it was shared. The two are still playing each other in late rounds of majors. Since the 2008 final, Federer has won eight Grand Slam singles titles for a total of 20, the men’s record, and Nadal is right behind him with 18. (Djokovic, the No. 1 seed this year, has won 14 of his 15 major championships since then.)
July 10, 2006
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Federer is seeking his ninth Wimbledon title.
Federer has won a record eight singles titles at the All England Club, the most recent in 2017. He won five in a row from 2003 to 2007, a streak Nadal snapped in that famous 2008 final.
Nadal has won Wimbledon twice, in 2008 and 2010. He was the runner-up in 2011 and reached the semifinals last year, losing a dramatic two-day, five-set match to Novak Djokovic. But between 2011 and 2018, Wimbledon was a source of frustration for Nadal, littered with early exits, including a first-round loss in 2013.
They have not been pushed hard yet.
Nadal is ranked No. 2 and Federer No. 3, but at Wimbledon, their seedings are reversed because of the tournament’s formula, which rewards success on grass over a two-year period.
Nadal complained about the formula before the tournament began, and when the draw came out, he certainly seemed to have the tougher path. But since a tricky second-round match against Nick Kyrgios, Nadal has been dominant. He has lost only one set in the tournament, to Kyrgios. He also has not faced a seeded player, dispatching Yuichi Sugita, Kyrgios, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, João Sousa and Sam Querrey. The average ranking of his opponents was 105.
Federer surprisingly lost his first set of the tournament, to Lloyd Harris, a 22-year-old South African ranked 86th. Federer’s only other lost set came at the start of his quarterfinal against eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori. Federer also defeated Jay Clarke, No. 27 Lucas Pouille and No. 17 Matteo Berrettini, who has been one of the tour’s hottest players on grass. After Berrettini was routed, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, in 1 hour 14 minutes, he thanked Federer “for the tennis lesson.”
Should we look forward to the U.S. Open?
This year has ended some significant droughts in the rivalry. After nearly two years of not playing each other, Federer and Nadal will now meet for the second time in five weeks. They had gone 11 years without playing at Wimbledon. They had gone eight years between matches at the French Open. They have somehow never faced each other at the United States Open. Is this the year?
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