We have a nice little line-up for tomorrow’s Wimbledon men’s singles semi-finals.
Though some of the draws burst into flames and let, in some respects, the dogs in, we arrive at a final four most tennis fans can appreciate, which may be a gigantic understatement.
The Big 3 are alive and well, seemingly. Roger, you know from my perspective, is the wild card here. Novak and Rafa are simply younger and better in this best-of-five format, for the most part.
Nadal is four years younger than Federer.
Djokovic is five years younger than Federer.
In September, this number becomes five years separating Rafa and Roger and six years separating Novak and the nine-time Wimbledon champ. Rafa and Novak just turned 33 (June) and 32 (May), respectively.
He looked a bit dumbstruck in the first set against Nishikori on Wednesday, but eventually found is purpose and turned the match around, securing his 13th WB final four with a 46 61 64 64 quarter-final victory. The first set looked troubling for the Swiss as Kei’s fast start coincided with a demonstrative break-of-serve and a hold to take a 2-0 lead; Kei’s aggressive ROS looked in full bloom. The Japanese 8th seed had three more BPs on Federer’s second service game but the latter escaped to make it 2-1.
Kei’s ROS highlights the quick start, but the rallies early-on were on his racquet, as well. Moving Roger from side-to-side (we mentioned this in our preview of the QF) puts the 37 year-old in all sorts of duress. Federer needs the more offensive position to maintain control of the point and the match, for that matter.
But if you get Federer moving a lot, side-to-side especially, his ground strokes can get, all together now, “ping -pongy.” I suspect Ljubičić will advise accordingly and Federer’s game will rise as this is the business-end for which Ivan the Terrible was brought onboard.
His flicky, more loopy top-spin FH has little hope in tomorrow’s SF match against Rafa. The one-hander has little chance either since a running offensive OHBH is nearly impossible to hit. Federer needs his feet, his ability to employ his potentially devastating variety that on a surface like grass can trouble all sorts of players.
But Kei early-on did and Rafa will too try to get Roger moving and playing more defense. Though Federer has great defensive skills, he’ll need a more offensively minded game to beat Nadal and reach another Wimby final.
The ping pong FH is the walking dead in Federer’s game.
He needs to hit the ball flatter and deeper. This isn’t rocket science, obviously, but the look of the match in this way will be pretty clear, almost as much as the score. On offense, he can employ the slice BH, make the match more north-to-south, as we’ve said, put these base-liners in more difficulty coming forward and getting into “deeper water.” If he lets Nadal set-up shop on the BL, allowing this old boy to dictate the match, lights-out for Federer. Nadal has that sneaky excellent net game, too, so there are several pieces to this puzzle in the SF vs. Rafa.
Of course, Federer coming-to-net will be critical too. His efficiency vs. Nishikori at net remains solid: 25/31 (81%).
As for Roger’s serve, he was 66% on FS in, won 81% of those, while he was successful 58% on SS. I have always thought that Federer needs, in these much bigger matches where he’s really an underdog (against Novak and Rafa), his FS has to be solid 70%+, for starters. That may still not be enough, but it’s a start. SS will be critical too. We’ll probably see some second serve and volley thrown-in here to keep Nadal guessing.
Federer hit 11 aces against Kei on Wednesday. On Friday, that number should be a bit higher, as well. Federer winning his serves to love or 15, facing as few BPs as possible against this feisty world-class SF opponent will, obviously, be terribly important.
Going from Nishikori to Nadal is going from a flowery frolic with a Pimms’s Cup in hand, taking in the lovely flowers amidst the gardening paradise of The Championships, to the wretched and dark, soul-crushing suffering of a best-of-five with a Rafael Nadal.
Federer needs an absolute “A” game in this 40th meeting with Nadal. He must be mentally strong, as in being down a break in an Aussie Open final in the fifth against Nadal and still coming through strong.
What I would pay to sit with Federer and his box during some of this preparation for what will hopefully be a classic against his monster rival. Hopefully this is a memorable match.
I have already said a bit about this beast. Here’s what we know: Nadal will stick around in a match like this. One will have to beat Nadal in four or five sets, probably five. What Novak did to him in Melbourne this year was incredible, scary.
Nadal will play chess while he’s scratching his way into your nest to eat your young. He’s ruthless, tireless and hates to lose. Federer’s game, the high-risk version that it has always been, isn’t the steady suffocating quicksand that Djokovic plays. The Serb can crush the spirit, as he did to Nadal in Melbourne. Federer, even if he wins, will allow the Spaniard to stick around. This should be a longer match, either way.
Nadal’s serve has been quite good thus far. Federer would be wise to get into that serve, but Rafa’s been quite good. Did you see some of the aces he hit against Sam when the American had him on the ropes in that first set? Nadal has that clutch gene, no question.
We probably want to think this match is on Federer’s racquet, given his success at Wimbledon, the way this surface, even slowed, plays a bit to the serve and volley, etc. We want to suggest that if Federer’s serving really well, in charge of the points, not gifting the Spaniard too many UE, that Federer should win.
But that’s a ridiculously risky take.
Federer has to match Rafa’s mental strength. Their French SF turned on that ninth game in the first set, at 4-4. We almost expected it, which is a shame. But worse, Federer went away.
Because of that win and securing his 12th French, we know Rafa is playing with house money. That’s, for me, what gives Rafa even more belief.
To me, this match is a perfect crucible for Federer’s viability in the sport, at this level (in these SF and F matches with Novak and Rafa). If he loses here, goes way, let’s say, the end should be near for sure. If Nadal wins in a classic in five, kudos to the Spaniard and bravo to Roger for some scintillating tennis. Stick around, old boy.
If I had to bet, I have to like Nadal in a five setter. This would make the most sense, for Federer’s sake. Nadal winning in three or four would be tough to swallow for Fed nation; after all, it’s Wimbledon.
An upset would be Federer in three or four. Federer in five would be as classic like Nadal in five. More books and movies will be made on a five-setter, no matter the victor.
Of course a Federer win would be huge for that guy’s morale, his legacy, his fans.
But here’s the deal with either one of these blokes, both Federer and Nadal: the winner has to, almost certainly, play Novak in the final.
His QF with Goffin was quite underwhelming other than the fun tennis fans should find in watching this clinician work. But by the bagel of the second, we were full; had had enough.
Simultaneously, the Goffin collapse (similar to the Nishikori wilt) consolidates that other reality: the generations of tennis players anywhere near this Big 3 era are failing in miserable fashion, continually. Stunning even though these failures have become redundant, or we should say, quotidian.
As this one went, David looking good early (like Kei). But watch that exchange, Novak down a break at 3-4. Dastardly stuff.
One gets the feeling that Novak can do this at will, at any time against any one. Hence, why a best-of-five against him is quite the ordeal.
I’ll leave this short by adding that his ROS and rally depth of shot are simply off-the-charts. He puts so much pressure on the opponent, it’s seems unfair. How he’s able to consistently make that depth of shot leaves one (playing him or watching him) scratching his head.
Novak’s serve has improved since coming back from Djokollapse. I noted this in his Wimbledon run last year. Nadal could not overcome this serve, the Serb saving several critical BPs against the Spaniard in that five-set SF epic.
Djokovic will be very very difficult to beat. For anyone.
Interestingly enough, this Spaniard has beaten Novak twice, this year (Doha and Miami). You probably know this, but we get a little added drama (hope of a match) from this fact (Novak leads the H2H 7-3). Of course, a lot of people (probably some of Novak’s insufferable fans) will say this ensures payback, for which, as the myth goes, the Serb takes great pleasure in delivering.
Either way, RBA is an absolute class act with a great level of tennis when he’s in form. He’s a grinder, a beast, and his flat ball can give boys all kinds of fits. Would love to see him at least get a set from Novak, one of the first two preferably, to keep this interesting.
We naturally like Novak through in this one, but let’s root for the Spaniard for his sake, at the very least. I hear whispers of a bachelor party (his) being postponed because of this Wimbledon run. All sorts of good fun for this late-blooming 31 year-old.
Great little interview here with RBA, referring to the “bachelor party.”
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Perhaps my last comment on this theme: the grass is dead?
I said in my QF preview that Federer finally acknowledged the slower speed of the courts at SW19. This is obvious from just watching the tennis (and seeing that three of the four semi-finalists are essentially baseliners). Nadal broke Querrey six times or thereabouts in their QF match on Wednesday; sure Sam had an off day on serve, but the evidence all over SW19 supports the contention that the surface is slower, which changes the nature of grass court tennis and brings into play so many other players, which is not bad thing, but this is still “a thing.” Meaning that when you start to bark from your fanboy fort that you built in your backyard with your other fannyboy friends, some of your claims ultimately fall of their arse. Just saying.
In the end, the sport, from the days of yore, has changed dramatically. Apples and oranges, really.
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Enjoy the matches.