As Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal prepare for their 40th head-to-head match in their Wimbledon semi-final, the tennis world is hoping for a showdown to rival their epic meetings from a decade ago.
Saturday morning’s match (AEST) is the first time the pair have met at Wimbledon since their epic 2008 final won by Nadal in 6-4 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (8-10) 9-7.
The four hours and 48 minute match was the longest final in Wimbledon history and came after the pair had faced-off in the previous two years – Federer winning 7-6 (9-7) 4-6 7-6 (7-3) 2-6 6-2 in 2007 and 6-0 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (2-7) 6-3 in 2006.
And Nadal knows he’s in for another fight.
“[To] play against Roger always is a unique situation. Excited to be back on this court against him after 11 years. Means a lot for me and probably for him, too,” Nadal told the ATP Tour website.
“Excited about this match, excited about this opportunity to be again in that round against him. Always I say the same: of course, the opportunities to play against each other every time are less, but we are still here. After tomorrow we are going to have another chance.
“I just expect to play against probably the best player in the history of this surface and know that I have to play my best if I want to have chances to try to be in that final.”
Federer is now aged 37 and Nadal 33, but they still form the topline of mens’ talent – along with 32-year-old Novak Djokovic, who plays Roberto Bautista Agut in the other semi-final.
In fact, Federer warned on the eve of the semi-finals that the big three may continue dominating the majors for some time yet.
Apart from three-time major champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, only Gaston Gaudio (2004 French Open), Juan Martin del Potro (2009 US Open) and Marin Cilic (2014 US Open) have also won a major slam title in the past 15 years.
The big three plus Murray and Wawrinka have won 57 of the past 60 majors, while no active player under 28 has even contested a grand slam final.
“It’s definitely not a – how do you say – regular time in tennis in the men’s game,” Federer told reporters.
I don’t think we would have thought that Novak, me, and Rafa, all of us, was going to be so solid, so dominant for so many years.
“I think that (collective domination), number one, stopped a lot of runs from the younger guys. Number two, I’m not sure, were they as talented as Rafa, Novak, and myself and others? Maybe also not.”
Federer also believes the way rankings points are awarded makes it difficult for the younger generation to break through.
With the battle-hardened, thirty-something veterans entrenched in the top eight, it’s tough for emerging talents to make their mark at slams and, thereby, rise the rankings.
“The only way to get in there (near the top) at the moment, it seems like, if you win a slam. Otherwise you need so many more points in the 1000s,” said Federer, who turns 38 next month.
“Rafa takes care of the clay there. Novak is in every Masters 1000 on hard court. I float around.
“You add Murray to it, Stan to it, guys that made their move later on, del Potro to it, you realise there’s not that much to get.
“It’s kind of tough to get to the top because Novak and Rafa are still so, so good. It just makes it more difficult like that.”