Nadal, Djokovic to re­new ri­valry

Journal Pioneer - - SPORTS -

Af­ter so much spec­u­la­tion about a pos­si­ble Wim­ble­don fi­nal be­tween Roger Fed­erer and Rafael Nadal, 10 years af­ter their last, the ten­nis world in­stead will get a semi­fi­nal fea­tur­ing another out­stand­ing ri­valry: Nadal vs. No­vak Djokovic. Fri­day’s show­down will be their 52nd meet­ing over­all — the most for any pair of men and 14 more in­stall­ments than Fed­erer vs. Nadal — and first at the All Eng­land Club since 2011. That was also the last time Nadal made it past the fourth round at the grass-court ma­jor; Djokovic, who holds a 26-25 headto-head lead, beat him in that year’s fi­nal. “We al­ways played in im­por­tant stages, im­por­tant places,” said Nadal, who had a far rougher go of things in the quar­ter­fi­nals than Djokovic, need­ing more than 4 1/2 hours to edge Juan Martin del Potro in a five-set thriller. “Fri­day is another im­por­tant match against an op­po­nent that is one of the most dif­fi­cult ones that you can face. He’s play­ing well. Only way to try to win it is (to) play very well.” The first semi­fi­nal at Cen­tre Court, be­tween No. 8 seed Kevin An­der­son of South Africa and No. 9 John Is­ner of the U.S., fea­tures two pow­er­ful servers with sim­i­lar games who have a lot less star power and con­sid­er­ably fewer Grand Slam tro­phies, to say the least: The Nadal-Djokovic com­bined count is 29, in­clud­ing five at Wim­ble­don. There are zero ma­jor ti­tles so far for ei­ther Is­ner, 33, or An­der­son, 32, who shock­ingly ended Fed­erer’s bid for a ninth cham­pi­onship at Wim­ble­don by eras­ing a match point and beat­ing him 13-11 in the fifth set of their quar­ter­fi­nal Wed­nes­day. At least An­der­son can boast of one run­ner-up fin­ish, and it was re­cent, against Nadal at last year’s U.S. Open. “I’m try­ing to get to where he’s al­ready been,” said Is­ner, who has won all 95 of his ser­vice games this fort­night, thanks in part to a tour­na­ment-lead­ing 161 aces. “He wants to get back there, wants another crack at a cham­pi­onship.” Is­ner, who leads An­der­son 8-3 in past meet­ings, is mak­ing his de­but in the fi­nal four of a Grand Slam tour­na­ment in his 41st ap­pear­ance at one. He’d only once be­fore reached the quar­ter­fi­nals at any ma­jor, back in 2011, and never had been past the third round at the All Eng­land Club. Add in Nadal, 32, and Djokovic, 31, and it’s the first time in the half-cen­tury of pro­fes­sional ten­nis that all four male semi­fi­nal­ists at any Slam are in their 30s. That’s a re­flec­tion of a trend that’s been present in the men’s game for quite some time. With the in­creas­ingly phys­i­cal na­ture of ral­lies, the ad­vances in train­ing and nu­tri­tion that help ex­tend ca­reers, and the dom­i­nance of a cer­tain trio of all-time tal­ents — Fed­erer has 20 Grand Slam ti­tles, Nadal 17, Djokovic 12 — it’s been hard for any young­sters to elbow their way to the top. Djokovic seems to once again be claim­ing his spot among the very elite. Since win­ning the 2016 French Open to com­plete a ca­reer Grand Slam and col­lect a fourth con­sec­u­tive ma­jor tro­phy, he hasn’t added to his to­tal. He has one Slam fi­nal ap­pear­ance in that span. A sig­nif­i­cant part of the prob­lem was a painful right elbow that forced him off the tour for the sec­ond half of 2017 af­ter he stopped play­ing dur­ing his Wim­ble­don quar­ter­fi­nal.

No­vak Djokovic (left) will face Rafael Nadal in a men’s sin­gles semi­fi­nal to­day at Wim­ble­don.

AP PHOTO

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