Sunday 24 September 2017 / 05:59 AM

NEXT GREAT CHAPTER IN RAFA-ROGER RIVALRY LOOMS

A historic clash looms ever closer for Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

It’s hard to believe that after a great rivalry spanning nearly two decades on the professional tour and 37 meetings, the two tennis legends have never clashed at the US Open.

But the highly anticipated showdown could become a reality this week with Nadal and Federer on a collision course in the semi-finals.

Of course there is still work to be done before the momentous meeting.

Nadal, who wiped the floor with Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth round, has a quarter-final date with Andrey Rublev.

Federer’s route to the semi-finals is similarly tricky. The 19-time major champion faces Philipp Kohlschreiber next, before a quarterfinal meeting with either a resurgent Juan Martin del Potro or the ever-dangerous Dominic Thiem.

Nadal and Federer have crossed paths in grand slams on 12 occasions, including nine finals, but none of those meetings have occurred in New York.

They have graced Roland Garros on five occasions, followed closely by four meetings at the Australian Open, including the final earlier this year, and three times at Wimbledon.

Remarkably, Nadal holds a one-sided 9-3 advantage against Federer in grand slam matches, and 6-3 in grand slam finals – despite Federer winning an overall four more major titles than Nadal.

However, given they have clashed most at the French Open, it’s not surprising the ‘King of Clay’ has dominated over the Swiss maestro.

In a US Open that has been rife with upsets, Nadal and Federer will now bid to avoid a similar fate.

“When you see a lot of seeds going out, you naturally put the focus on you for it not to happen to you,” Federer said.

“You become more aware of it, that it seems a tournament of the upsets, so it’s going to get you, too. You’re going into the match this way.”

Neither player has enjoyed a straightforward path into the second week. Federer battled through two consecutive thrilling five-set battles, while Nadal needed three hours and 15 minutes to fend off Leonardo Mayer, sacrificing six break-point opportunities in the opening set alone.

“I think for many years Rafa and me, we’ve tried to play against each other here, and it just didn’t work out,” Federer said.

“I was a match point away once against Novak years ago (2011). I can’t come closer than that because I think he had already won his match, I believe. We were one point away from it happening.

“Now this week, I don’t feel necessarily the pressure’s there. We’ll see.”

With five out of the 11 top-ranked men’s players missing in action this fortnight, the draw has continued to open up, clearing the way for a maiden grand slam finalist.

None of the players left in the bottom half of the draw have ever reached the final stage of a major.

“In the top [half] we actually really have good players left. A lot of them can play at a very high level. They’re all facing off now. I think it’s an exciting tournament. I’m happy I’m still around,” Federer said.

“Rafa fought well through again (against Mayer). I’m happy for him, too. We’ll see if it gets done or not. I’m curious to see myself.”

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Alyssia Varricchio

Alyssia Varricchio is a sports reporter, journalist and producer based in Melbourne.

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