Wimbledon | Nadal Federer clash – another classic?
Rafa Nadal has a deep well he can draw on as he faces eight-time champion Roger Federer for the first time at Wimbledon since their classic final 11 years ago.
Very happy the way that we managed to be in that round. Now play against Roger always is a unique situation. Excited to be back on this court against him after 11 years. Means a lot for me and probably for him, too. Rafa Nadal
The fact he won the encounter reckoned the greatest witnessed in the sport by John McEnroe and many others.
The fact he goes into his 40th meeting with Federer holding a 24-15 advantage in their head to head.
The fact he beat Federer in the semi-finals of the French on route to his 12th French Open title just a few weeks ago.
But you won’t find either Nadal or Federer overstating his hand in this fire v ice encounter; Spaniard Nadal bringing the flames and Swiss Federer the cool.
Nadal might have won an astonishing 18 Grand Slams and be playing at the top of his game.
But his opponent holds a two-major advantage and completed his 100th victory on the lawns of the All England Club to set-up the talk-of-sport showdown. And is also playing like a dream as he plots to extend his record haul of All England triumphs to nine.
Both players with defending champion Novak Djokovic – who plays Nadal’s compatriot Robert Bautista Agut in the other semi-final – make up the Big Three which have dominated tennis for a decade and a half (we used to call it the Big Four until Britain’s Andy Murray was sidelined with injury).
Nadal , 33, said: “Memories of 2008? Great feelings, no? First of all, is great feeling to be back in that semifinals, be able to be playing at this level of tennis are great news.
“Very happy the way that we managed to be in that round. Now play against Roger always is a unique situation. Excited to be back on this court against him after 11 years. Means a lot for me and probably for him, too.
“Excited about this match, excited about this opportunity to be again in that round against him. Always I say the same: of course, the opportunities to play against each other every time are less, but we still here. We are going to have another chance.”
Are you expecting to learn new things about Federer in the match?
He said: “No, no! I just expect to play against probably the best player of the history in this surface and know that I have to play my best if I want to have chances to try to be in that final, no? That’s all. I know he’s playing well. He feels comfortable here. And me, too. I’m playing well, too.”
How would your relationship change if you beat him?
Nadal, who beat American Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals, said: “I had a lot of defeats. I had a lot of victories. Relationship never changed. Always big respect. Good friendship, relationship. That’s all. Probably will not change if I win, if I lose.”
What is working in your game?
He said: “I think I am playing with a very high intensity, playing aggressive, serving well and returning very well. It was big, big challenge against a serve like Sam. Have the chance to break him six times, I think, is a lot against a player like him. A victory that means a lot to me. Very happy. In general terms I can’t say one particular thing because, in general terms, I am very, very happy the way I am playing.”
Will the French Open win be a factor?
He said: “Difficult to say yes or no. Probably is better to have that victory than have defeat, of course. But in the other hand, is completely different situation, no? Play on grass or play on clay is probably the biggest change in the world of tennis. Difficult to have an answer that can work for you.”
Have you and Federer improved?
He said: “No, I don’t think we improved much. I think we managed to add things because we lose things on the other hand, no? We need to add new things because of the age, we are losing another thing from the other side. The only thing and probably the only reason why we’re able to be where we are is because we love the game and we have big respect for this sport.
“I am running less so I need to serve better. I probably cannot play 20 weeks per year any more, so I need to reschedule my planning to improve things to be very competitive every single time that I am on court. Of course, I am serving better. Of course, I am hitting the backhand better. Maybe volleying better, slicing better.
“But even like this, I don’t know if my level today will beat my level of years ago. In terms of improvement, I don’t know. In terms of readapt my game, readapt our game, talking about me and Roger, for sure there is lot of things that we find a way to keep being one of the best of the world.”
Federer, 37, is wary of two-time champion Nadal’s improvement on grass since 2008.
He said : “He’s improved so much over the years on this surface. He’s playing also very different than he used to. 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.
“It’s impressive to see how sort of healthy he’s stayed. A lot of them are saying, Oh, it’s the end, by 2008. Similar to me in ’09. We’re still here. So it’s nice to play each other again.”
What previous encounters with Nadal are most relevant to the semi-final?
He said: “Not so much the French Open, I do believe. I feel like conditions were slightly different. It was so windy, as you know. It was just insane. I haven’t heard it was going to be the same in a couple of days, so I hope not, even though that would be funny again.
“No, I mean, maybe Australian Open final. Obviously, best-of-five set match, five sets. Then again, yeah, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway. Who cares? It’s about how has he played so far, how have I played so far. I hope it goes my way. It’s going to be tough, you know.
“Rafa really can hurt anybody on any surface. I mean, he’s that good. He’s not just a clay court specialist, we know.”
Djokovic, aiming for his fifth Wimbledon crown, will not be under-estimating surprise semi-finalist Baustista Agut.
The Serb, 32, said: “His consistency, I think. His ability to stay in the point even when it seems like he’s on the back foot. He’s got amazing consistency I think with his shots. Very flat from both forehand and backhand.
“He has improved his backhand. I think he’s got more depth on his backhand. The ball bounces lower on the grass, which is I think more suitable to his style of the game. He doesn’t like when the ball bounces higher to his backhand.
“He’s been definitely playing some very, very highquality tennis in this tournament. He has won twice against me so far this year.
“That’s certainly going to give him confidence coming into the match. Obviously playing on grass, it’s different. Semifinals of Grand Slam, going to try to use my experience in being in these kind of matches, get myself tactically prepared. Hopefully I can execute everything I intend to do.”
Bautista Agut, 31, forced to put off his stag do in Ibiza due to his unexpected run, hopes he can help break the stranglehold of the Big Three.
He said : “It feels good to be next to them. They are one of the best players in the tennis era. They are such a good sportsmen, a good tennis players. Well, it feels very good to be next to them and to be part of the semi-final in this tournament.”