With Fed­erer out, Djokovic-Nadal steals the spot­light

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - By Howard Fen­drich

LON­DON » 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 head-to-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 4½ 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 half­cen­tury 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.

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