Clash of the titans! Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer can deliver epic semi-final to rival 2008 Wimbledon classic
- Their 2008 clash at SW19 is regarded as one of the greatest matches ever
- Roger Federer spurned match points and led in tiebreak yet lost to Rafael Nadal
- The rivals will go head-to-head for the 40th time on Centre Court on Friday
It ended in near darkness amid an explosion of camera flashes, and John McEnroe described it as the best match he has ever seen.
If Friday’s long-awaited sequel to the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal comes near to its billing, Centre Court will come alight again on Friday afternoon.
What will not happen is it ending in near darkness. That was the case in the classic rain-interrupted affair of 11 years ago, which concluded, thrillingly, in the gloaming. Financial crises and prime ministers have come and gone since then and, more parochially, Wimbledon has added a roof or two, meaning there will be no delays.
The 2008 final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was one of best matches ever
TOP 5 DUELS
2006 Italian Open final
Nadal — 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6
Federer spurned two match points at 6-5 in the decider and led 5-3 in tiebreak only to lose a match Nadal simply would not give away.
2007 Wimbledon final
Federer — 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2
Perhaps less celebrated than ’08 but at the time heralded as the best men’s Wimbledon final since Borg and McEnroe in 1980.
2008 Wimbledon final
Nadal — 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7
In badly fading light after several rain delays, Nadal staved off a superb fightback from his rival, bettering the drama of 12 months previously to snap Fed’s 65-match grass winning streak.
2009 Australian Open final
Nadal — 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2
Federer was in tears at the trophy ceremony saying, ‘God this is killing me’ after being edged out after four hours and 19 minutes.
2017 Australian Open final
Federer — 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
Trailing 3-1 in the decider, Federer rolled back the years to win the first big tournament he had played since coming back from a long injury lay-off.
That was just part of the drama as Nadal held off the Federer fightback from two sets down to win 9-7 in the decider.
‘I was lucky enough that people used to talk about the match I had with Bjorn Borg in 1980 but this one, everything surrounding it, the way it ended, the quality of tennis, to see Rafa finally get his first Wimbledon, was amazing,’ said McEnroe.
Aside from the roof, the character of the court is not what it used to be back then, with the general consensus being that the conditions are slower. That is one reason why you suspect the most likely outcome of Friday’s events is a Nadal versus Novak Djokovic final.
In the first eliminator of this afternoon the Serb will face another Spanish baseliner, Roberto Bautista Agut, the man who planned his stag do for this weekend. While the pace of the court may have slowed, the way the game is played has quickened, with players being more aggressive.
Federer contemplated this change as he prepared for what will be the 40th meeting of the rivalry that refuses to die.
‘You used to play more of a waiting game,’ said the Swiss. ‘Now you get the impression, and with the women too, every shot is an opportunity to do damage and finish the rally. Everything has all become a bit more hectic.
‘You have to remember — stay calm. It’s OK to just get a ball back and neutralise your opponent. At that time there were a lot more rallies. Back then, you could hit a crosscourt shot, but it wasn’t mega-hard and you could get to the net. It was the classic Tim Henman — he did it thousands of times in the match.
Federer takes part in a practice session at the All England Club on Thursday
‘You could play on the service line and then get to the net, that’s no longer the case.’
However things have altered, a key to the longevity of Federer and Nadal is that they have adapted and constantly improved and refined their games.
The Nadal serve is stronger, for example, and the Federer backhand is more versatile and powerful, using a bigger racket head.
The Swiss will need to have an outstanding serving day to fire up his 1-2 combinations and punch holes in Nadal’s remarkable defence. Federer was 26 and the Spaniard 22 when they last played at SW19, but their series goes all the way back to 2003. They have grown up together.
Spaniard Nadal prepares for his 40th meeting with his great rival Federer at SW19
Over that time their off-court relationship has developed into a state of cordial truce and mutual respect.
Another example of this will come in February next year when they meet for a charity exhibition match in Cape Town before an expected crowd of around 50,000.
Nadal is on Federer’s Team Europe in the Laver Cup event he helps promote in Geneva this September, an invitation that has been declined by Djokovic. There is no doubt that the two of them are closer to each other than they are to the Serb, and it is surely he who will await the winner in Sunday’s final after a Friday for which tickets were on Thursday changing hands at nearly £8,000 a pair.
A year on from the tournament which dragged him out of his 2018 slump, Djokovic looks a racing certainty to face the winner.
The No 23 seed, Bautista Agut, is a talented hitter who does not give matches away, but it would be a seismic upset if he was not free to belatedly join in his pre-wedding festivities by this evening.