Wimbledon semifinal: Federer and Nadal resume old rivalry on grass

It will be Federer and Nadal's first meeting at Wimbledon since the 2008 final.

In the 2008 final, under fading light and flickering flashbulbs, Federer’s soaring grass-court majesty was stopped in its tracks by a relentless Nadal as he completed the first French Open – Wimbledon double since Bjorn Borg in 1980.   -  getty images

The last time Roger Federer played Rafael Nadal on the hallowed grass at Wimbledon, the latter was still wearing his pirate pants and a sleeveless shirt.

In the 2008 final, under fading light and flickering flashbulbs, Federer’s soaring grass-court majesty was stopped in its tracks by a relentless Nadal as he completed the first French Open – Wimbledon double since Bjorn Borg in 1980.

It was supposed to signal the changing of the guard, from a 26-year-old 12-time Major winner to a 22-year-old who had just won his fifth. But in the decade since then, the two have proved that it was anything but that. Federer completed his own double a year later and added eight Grand Slams while Nadal morphed into an all-court warrior and increased his by 13.

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On Friday, the two will meet for the 40th time in tennis’ most-celebrated modern-day rivalry. While the overall numbers are heavily skewed in favour of Nadal – he leads Federer 24-15 – the grass is Federer’s territory and he is ahead 2-1. On non-clay surfaces, Federer holds a 13-10 advantage. It was evident in the way the Swiss positioned grass as “his court” and clay as “Rafa’s court” after his win over Kei Nishikori on Wednesday.

Federer has also significantly tweaked his game of late – with the aid of a bigger racquet head – to better counter Nadal’s high, top- and side-spun forehand into his one-handed backhand.   -  getty images

 

Federer has also significantly tweaked his game of late – with the aid of a bigger racquet head – to better counter Nadal’s high, top- and side-spun forehand into his one-handed backhand. It won him 2017 Australian Open final in five sets and helped snap a six-match losing streak against the Spaniard in Slams.

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It was no surprise that Federer picked the Melbourne match as the reference point ahead of the semifinal rather than French Open contest he lost five weeks ago.

Yet, as Federer acknowledged, the gap isn’t very wide. After going five years without making a single quarterfinal at SW19 (2012-2017), Nadal has impressed in reaching two successive semifinals. “He has improved so much,” Federer said. “He's playing also very different than he used to. I remember back in the day how he used to serve, and now how much bigger he's serving and how much faster he finishes points. He can really hurt anybody on any surface. He's that good. He's not just a clay-court specialist.”

Nadal’s take was slightly different. “I don't think we improved much,” he said. “I think we managed to add things because we lost other things... because of age. I am running less so I need to serve better. Of course, I am hitting the backhand better. Maybe volleying and slicing better. But I don't know if my level today will beat my level of years ago. So, in terms of improvement, I don't know. In terms of re-adapting our games, for sure. That is what makes us keep playing with this intensity.”