By Kodilinye Obiagwu
THIS Wimbledon semifinal match up between world number two, Rafa Nadal and number four ranked Roger Federer has all the makings of a replay of two memorable matches, involving both players.
The first would be the 2008 final, the third final between the two at Wimbledon, regarded as one of the greatest matches in tennis history. The second is the latest meeting, the 2019 semifinal at Roland Garros.
Is revenge of any sort in the air? Would tennis fans be treated to a good evening of tennis Friday? Both men have never served anything less in the 39 meetings so far, in what is considered as the most celebrated rivalry in modern men’s tennis lore.
The 2008 final, had looked like an end of an era and the start of another, but Federer, 26 then is still competing at 37, while Nadal, the then rampant youth at 22 is still slugging it out at 33. Both have defied the effect of time, dominated the top space to the bewilderment of the next generation payers as they, contend for more Grand Slams and burnish their quest to be the GOAT in their corners.
A Remarkable Semifinals
It is remarkable that after 11 years, both are locked up in a semi final in Wimbledon and with a chance of either to add to his chest of Grand Slams.
Jon Wertheim, the author of “Strokes of Genius,” a book about the 2008 Wimbledon final, says, “not only are these two guys still at it, but they are still very much at the peak of their powers.
“Their rivalry still has so much heft, and their passion for the sport hasn’t diminished. They both approach the sport so differently and get to the top of the mountain by such different paths, but here we are.”
On Clay, Nadal has remained unbeatable, and on Roland Garros, he is imperious. At Roland Garros, Nadal beat Federer in straight sets, 6-3 6-4 6-2, on his way to the final for a 12th French Open crown and leads 6-0 in their head to head in the French Open.
That loss ended Federer’s rather brilliant run at Roland Garros after a four year absence and added another deficit on their head-to-head chart to 24-15.
Nadal had snuffed out any hope of Federer winning a second title in Paris and showed how powerless Federer is before him [Nadal] at Roland Garros.
A gracious Nadal had said: “It is incredible to play at that level aged 37. He’s probably the best player in history, it’s a great pleasure to play with him.”
Federer, at Wimbledon, his turf, has won 8 titles, and leads 2-1 on his head to head with Nadal. Will he, at 37, show the same domineering act to avenge his defeat at Roland Garros on a now 33-year-old Nadal?
“It’s going to be tough,” Federer said. “Rafa really can hurt anybody on any surface. I mean, he’s that good. He’s not just a clay-court specialist, we know.”
Federer might have a point there as Nadal has won at the four Grand Slams.
Ahead of Friday, one of Federer’s coaches, Ivan Ljubicic said, “they both know each other so well and are both playing well, so it will most likely be a good one.”
Nadal is looking expectant on grass this year. If of recent, he has not lived up to his standards at Wimbledon, he has passed a stern test in his section of the tough draw. In the second round, he skipped the land mine in the name of Nick Kyrgios and since then, his passion hasn’t flagged.
It’s been more than a decade since the two competed at Wimbledon. Federer leads 2-1 on their head to head there, having defeated Nadal in the 2006 and 2007 finals before losing in the 2008 final.
Federer said of Nadal: “He has improved so much over the years on this surface [grass]. He’s playing also very different than he used to. We haven’t played each other in a long, long time on this surface. He’s serving way different. I remember back in the day how he used to serve, and now how much bigger he’s serving, how much faster he finishes points.”
On the Way to The Final
The outcome of the semifinals might have no bearing on the final. Novak Djokovic, the World number 1 and defending champion at Wimbledon, with a better head to head on both players could be lurking.
Nadal hasn’t had much success against Djokovic. The two have faced each other 54 times; Djokovic lead 28–26 and has a better head to head 15-11 in finals.
Federer and Djokovic have faced each other 47 times; Djokovic leads 25–22. Although Djokovic leads on their head to head, their rivalry is rather competitive with the chance of either of them losing on any given day. Federer has beaten Djokovic in all four majors, and likewise Djokovic.