Wimbledon 2019: Will Roger Federer’s grass-court mastery triumph?

After going more than 1 year without playing each other anywhere, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will be meeting at a second consecutive Grand Slam tournament when they face off in Wimbledon’s semifinals.   | Photo Credit: AP

The last time Roger Federer played Rafael Nadal on the hallowed grass at Wimbledon, the latter still wore pirate pants and sleeveless shirts. In the 2008 final, under fading light and flickering flashbulbs, Federer’s soaring grass-court majesty was stopped in its tracks by a relentless Nadal as he completed the first French Open-Wimbledon double among men since Bjorn Borg in 1980.

It was supposed to signal the changing of guard, from a 26-year-old 12-time Major winner to a 22-year-old who had just won his fifth. But in the decade since then, the two have proved that it was anything but that. Federer completed his own double a year later and added eight Grand Slams while Nadal morphed into an all-court warrior and increased his by 13. On Friday, the two will meet for the 40th time in tennis’ most-celebrated modern-day rivalry.

While the overall numbers are heavily skewed in favour of Nadal — he leads Federer 24-15 — grass is Federer’s territory and he is ahead 2-1. On non-clay surfaces, Federer holds a 13-10 advantage, including five wins in the last five. It was evident in the way the Swiss positioned grass as “his court” and clay as “Rafa’s court” after the win over Kei Nishikori on Wednesday.

Significant tweak

Of late, Federer has also significantly tweaked his game — aided by a bigger racquet head — to better counter Nadal’s high, top- and side-spun forehand into his one-handed backhand. It won him the 2017 Australian Open final and helped snap a six-match losing streak against the Spaniard at Slams. It was no surprise that Federer picked the Melbourne match as the reference point ahead of the semifinal rather than French Open contest he lost five weeks ago.

Yet, as Federer acknowledged, the gap isn’t very wide. After going five years without making a single quarterfinal at SW19 (2012-2017), Nadal has impressed in reaching two successive semifinals. “He has improved so much,” Federer said. “He’s playing also very different than he used to. I remember back in the day how he used to serve, and now how much bigger he’s serving and how much faster he finishes points. He can really hurt anybody on any surface. He’s that good. He’s not just a clay court specialist.”

Different take

Nadal’s take was slightly different. “I don’t think we improved much,” he said. “I think we managed to add things because we lost other things... because of age. I am running less so I need to serve better. Of course, I am hitting the backhand better. Maybe volleying and slicing better. But I don’t know if my level today will beat my level of years ago. So, in terms of improvement, I don’t know. In terms of re-adapting our games, for sure. That’s what makes us keep playing with this intensity.”

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 8:45:55 PM |

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