Who would have believed that on a “slow” grass court an aging, near-38 Roger Federer would out rally the king of the baseline, Rafael Nadal? Well, that’s what happened this afternoon in the Wimbledon semifinals.
In a very long-awaited rematch of their 2008 Wimbledon final epic, Federer had his revenge beating Nadal handily — and doing so at his own game — in a 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.
“It’s always very, very cool to play against Rafa here, especially haven’t played in so long,” said Federer. “It lived up to the hype, especially from coming out of the gates, we were both playing very well. Then, the climax at the end, with the crazy last game, some tough rallies there. It had everything at the end, which was great, I guess. I’m just relieved it’s all over at this point.
“But it’s definitely, definitely going to go down as one of my favorite matches to look back at, again, because it’s Rafa, it’s at Wimbledon, the crowds were into it, great weather. I felt like I played good also throughout the four sets. I can be very happy.”
The 3-hour affair had it all. Good play, bad play, startlingly bad play and some terrific tension at the end.
But at the start, it resembled last year’s servebot semi between Kevin Anderson and John Isner, as both legends were just cruising on serve in the first set. Finally, Fed had some break points, but failed to convert. Being the aggressor, he eventually came out on top in the breaker which prevented Nadal from jumping out to a set lead which would have been a huge problem for the Swiss.
But the lead wouldn’t last long because Nadal broke early in the second as Federer went off the rails, and in a blink it was a set-all. Nadal now had the momentum, but that wouldn’t last long either.
Federer broke early in the third and held off break points in the next game. He was in control!
Federer gained another break in the fourth then with Rafa serving 3-5, got two match points. Rafa with some incredible play swatted both away. Then with Federer serving for the match at 5-4, Rafa again wouldn’t relent, coming up with incredible shot after incredible shot, getting the crowd pumped. He had break points and the prevailing fear for Federer fans was that if Rafa converted any of those to make it 5-all, Rafa was surely going to win the fourth and take the fifth. That was the feeling and you could almost see it in Federer’s eyes.
But Roger locked in and like the cool customer he is, got the job done.
“I think I won a lot of the important points in the third and fourth sets,” said Federer. “There were some brutal rallies in key moments that went my way. I think those might have made the difference today.”
The rallies were brutal and many ended up going Federer’s way and he was the one doing the damage from the baseline, not Nadal.
“It’s been a tough one. I had my chances, but he played a little bit better than me,” said Nadal who fell for the second straight year in the semifinals. “Probably I didn’t play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserves it. Congrats to him.
“Honestly, I didn’t have the great feelings that I had the other days,” he added. “When I was hitting the ball with the forehand, especially with the backhand, I was not able to open up the court like the other days.
“You need to make him miss because you put him out of position. I probably didn’t hit the ball clean enough to make that happen this afternoon. Then you are in a situation where he plays in his comfort zone and it’s difficult from there – for me and for everybody, I think.”
Federer was hitting it beautifully from the backcourt and connecting with his volleys. His serve was OK but for him the baseline game got him through.
“It comes very much down to who’s better on the day, who’s in a better mental place, who’s got more energy left, who’s tougher when it really comes to the crunch,” Federer said.
“In tennis, there’s always somebody who’s going to be a little bit better because there’s no draws in our sport.”
And today it was without a doubt Federer.
So next for Roger will be Novak Djokovic who outclassed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. The Spaniard played Djokovic tough in the second and into the third, but Djokovic has too much variety. He served well and was exceptional at the net en route to his sixth Wimbledon final and 25th Slam title match.
“It’s the final of Wimbledon. This is the kind of match that I always dreamed of being part of as a young boy with the tennis racquet. This is what I worked for. I wanted to be in this position,” said Djokovic. “I have a chance to fight for a trophy. Regardless of who’s across the net or what is happening, I’ll definitely give it my all.”
Bautista Agut definitely made a match of it and made Djokovic work, but he just doesn’t have the sustained firepower needed in best-of-5.
“I think I deserved a little bit more in the third set,” said Bautista Agut. “The third set for me was the best set of the match. We both played very good tennis.
“Every experience I had in my tennis career made me a better player, made me do things better the next time,” he added. “A lot of experiences today in the match.
On Sunday, Djokovic will go for his second straight Wimbledon title while Federer will try to beat Djokovic for a first time in seven years at a Slam. If Roger does that, he’ll win his ninth Wimbledon and 21st Slam, and potentially set himself up for a run at No. 1. Not bad for a guy who’s just weeks away from his 38th birthday.
Djokovic, though, is going to be the rightful favorite and right now there are no holes in his game. But if anyone is going to find them, it’s Federer.
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