After a turbulent beginning to the week that saw Rafael Nadal unceremoniously dumped out of Wimbledon by teenager Nick Kyrgios and Andy Murray’s quest to retain his title foiled by Grigor Dimitrov, we could have been forgiven for thinking that we were starting to see a sea change in men’s tennis.
For a number of years now, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been the usual suspects at nearly every Grand Slam. And yet there was a moment on Wednesday when it seemed eminently possible that we might see a Wimbledon semi-final day with none of the four competing.
The old master Federer came perilously close to losing at the hands of his compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, while 25-year old Marin Cilic took Novak Djokovic to five sets and had some gilt-edged chances to beat the Serb. Had those two crashed out along with Murray and Nadal, this would have represented a tennis revolution of almost preposterous levels.
As it is, we have all been reminded of the dangers of counting chickens before they’ve hatched as both Federer and Djokovic recovered from their setbacks and will now face off in Sunday’s final. It will be a truly fascinating duel between two gladiatorial opponents.
The two former world No.1s have played each other 34 times, with Federer just nudging ahead on 18 wins. At Grand Slams, they’ve come up against each other 11 times – but this will be only their second contest at Wimbledon.
Their previous showdown at the All England Club was back in 2012 in the semi-final, with Federer prevailing in four sets. That match represents the only time that the two have played each other on grass, and Federer will be hoping that he can use that game as inspiration on Sunday.
The Swiss maestro is, of course, bidding to break even more records when he takes on Djokovic. Federer is currently tied with Pete Sampras for the most Wimbledon titles on seven, and victory on Sunday would elevate the world No.4 to an almost unbelievable mantle.
Matches between the ‘Big Four’ are notoriously difficult to call, but the romanticist in me would love to see Federer win this one. So many times written off as past his best, the Swiss has simply continued to provide excellent entertainment and first-class tennis time and time again. At 32 years of age, he is the elder statesman of the ‘Big Four’, but the reality is that anyone writing him off on Sunday will be doing so with more than a twinge of doubt in their mind.
This is not to say that Federer is the favourite. Indeed, the game really is too difficult to call, and what will be interesting is monitoring to what extent Federer looks to attack Djokovic in the early stages of Sunday’s match. While Federer’s mobility is not encumbering, as the saying goes, he’s no spring chicken. Given that Djokovic’s ground strokes are so consistent, the Serb may well be content to keep Federer on his baseline and look to move him around and tire him out.
If this happens, then it would fall to Federer to mix his game up and add in the serve and volley element that he is capable of, but often keeps under wraps. Forcing Djokovic into shorter, sharper rallies would put the onus back on technique rather than strength or aggression, and if that happens, my money has to be on Federer.
One thing’s for sure, Sunday’s final is going to be fascinating, and I really can’t wait to sit down and watch two greats of the game do battle.
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