Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will renew one of tennis’ standout rivalries when the pair meet in the Wimbledon semi-finals on Friday.
Centre Court will witness the 52nd meeting of the two greats of the game – the most prolific match-up – and their newest showdown holds the ingredients to surpass their previous memorable encounters.
While Nadal has shared the last six Grand Slam titles with Roger Federer, the Spaniard’s struggles over the past eight years at the grass court Grand Slam are well known.
Djokovic, finalist at the Queen’s Club last month, is returning to the heights expected of the Serb and on target for a first major victory since completing the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2016.
Both have impressed on their respective paths to the last four of the tournament.
Nadal, seeded second, prevailed in a five-set battle of attrition against Juan Martin del Potro to reach his first Wimbledon semi-final since 2011.
Djokovic has shown great resolve to progress past the quarter-final stage at the All England Club for the first time since securing his third Wimbledon title in 2015, after a four-set success against Kei Nishikori.
Prior to their quarter-finals, the only set either player had lost was the opener by Djokovic against British No 1 Kyle Edmund in the third round.
Nadal and Djokovic have met only twice since May 2017. Djokovic’s elbow injury, loss of form on his comeback and coincidence of draws have meant the public have been bereft of the pair going head-to-head on the sport’s biggest stage.
After eight-time winner and defending champion Roger Federer’s dramatic defeat to Kevin Anderson in five sets, the chance of another Grand Slam title in the pair’s glittering careers increases.
A decade on from Nadal’s maiden Wimbledon triumph, which culminated in an all-time classic victory over Federer in the fading light, will the Spaniard celebrate Grand Slam No 18 and title No 3 at SW19 on Sunday?
On the other side of the court Djokovic, who has won 11 out of the last 14 meetings, is quickly rediscovering the form that saw him hold all four major championships simultaneously two years ago.
Who lies in wait in Sunday’s final?
With either Anderson or John Isner, both yet to win a Grand Slam, meeting in the other last-four encounter the significance of Friday’s match couldn’t be clearer for either player.
Anderson and Isner have both served exceptionally well over the fortnight thus far and shown remarkable composure but the winner of Friday’s second semi-final will be the favourite for Sunday’s showpiece.
Far too many to list but the 2009 Madrid Masters semi-final deserves particular praise.
Djokovic won five more points than his opponent but after taking the opener squandered three match points in an epic four-hour best-of-three contest.
Away from the Masters Series stage and two Grand Slam meetings stand out.
The 2012 Australian Open final saw the top-two ranked players at the time produce a pulsating showpiece. Seven minutes shy of the six-hour mark and Djokovic collapsed to the ground in the realisation he had won his fifth and certainly most arduous of major crowns – it remains the longest Grand Slam final.
Just over a year later and the pair met again in the 2013 French Open semi-final, with Djokovic aiming to dethrone defending champion Nadal and maintain his hopes to secure the career Grand Slam.
Another marathon contest ensued but this time it was Spain’s ‘King of Clay’ who overcame concerns over his creaking knees to edge a thrilling final set 9-7 and leave Djokovic disconsolate.
6:17 Highlights of the 2018 Rome Masters semi-final between Nadal and Djokovic Pre-match thoughts…
Djokovic, a 12-time Grand Slam champion, told the media after his quarter-final victory against Kei Nishikori he was “pretty close” to the level he produced when he won back-to-back Wimbledon titles in 2014 and 2015.
That in itself is clear sign the doubts which hampered the Serb on his return to the game from a six-month injury lay-off are in the past.
“Obviously, it is different coming into the semi-finals this year – taking into consideration the past 15 months, everything that has happened and my results which were not up to the standard that I was expected to meet,” Djokovic said.
“At the same time I am trying to use the experience and the memories I have of being in the final stages of Grand Slams.”
Nadal, who has won their previous two meetings – both on clay, is in no doubt about the challenge he faces against his great foe.
“It is always a big challenge to face Novak,” Nadal said. “He is one of the more complex players that I ever seen in our sport. You know that you can’t win against him if you don’t play very well.
“I know in semi-finals of Wimbledon you will not have an easy opponent in front. You have to accept that if you want to win important things.
“Of course, you will face the best players. You need to be ready for it.
“I have done a lot of things well since I am back from injury. I have only lost one match. I know that semi-finals is one of the matches that anything can happen. I know if you don’t play very well, you will not have the chance to win.”
Victory for Nadal would move him a step closer to a fourth major title in seven events, while for Djokovic it would mark him being on the cusp of a return to the sport’s top table.
Grand Slam meetings Year Tournament Winner Score 2015 French Open – QF Djokovic 7-5 6-3 6-1 2014 French Open – F Nadal 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 2013 US Open – F Nadal 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-1 2013 French Open – SF Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 9-7 2012 French Open – F Nadal 6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5 2012 Australian Open – F Djokovic 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 2011 Wimbledon – F Djokovic 6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3 2010 US Open – F Nadal 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2 2008 French Open – SF Nadal 6-4 6-2 7-6 (7-3) 2007 Wimbledon – SF Nadal 3-6 6-1 4-1 RET 2007 French Open – SF Nadal 7-5 6-4 6-2 2006 French Open – QF Nadal 6-4 6-4 RET
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