Nadal, Djokovic re­new long­stand­ing ri­valry in semi­fi­nals

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Sports -

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 grass­court 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 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 has 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 iin his Wimbledon quar­ter­fi­nal. Af­ter more than a year of trou­ble, Djokovic fi­nally had surgery in Fe­bru­ary, then took awhile to find his groove.

“If I have to com­pare the game that I’ve played, the level of ten­nis that I’ve had [all of] those years and to­day, I think it’s pretty close. ... I know, as ev­ery­thing in life, we are evolv­ing. I’m a dif­fer­ent per­son, dif­fer­ent player to­day,” Djokovic said.

“I like the level of ten­nis that I’m play­ing on right now. I re­ally do. I think with the per­for­mances I’ve had, I de­serve to be in the semi­fi­nals,” he con­tin­ued. “I don’t want to stop here. I hope I can get a chance to fight for a tro­phy.”

He’ll need to get past Nadal first.

Kirsty Wig­glesworth/As­so­ci­ated Press

No­vak Djokovic, 31, is seek­ing his 13th Grand Slam ti­tle.

Glyn Kirk/Getty Im­ages

Rafael Nadal, 32, has 17 Grand Slam ti­tles.

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