The SI Tennis crew highlights keys to the match and make predictions for the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal semifinal at Wimbledon.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will face off Friday in the semifinals of Wimbledon, marking the first time the two have played each other at the All England Club since their epic 2008 final.
This will be the 40th meeting between them, so there will be little mystery between the two...but every match is different. Our SI Tennis crew breaks down what should be quite the spectacle on Centre Court.
What are the keys to the match for Federer?
Jon Wertheim: Will be able to win points on his second serve? Nadal has done so much right at this tournament, but one thing that sticks out is the way he’s been attacking his opponents when they missed their first ball. Can Fed use the crowd? Can he benefit from his superior use of analytics and data?
Stanley Kay: Grass is Federer’s domain, and tactically he’ll play aggressive by keeping points short and coming to the net. Federer has been broken just three times this tournament, and if he serves well on Friday, it’s hard to see him losing this match. There is, of course, a psychological element to this match—after all, this is tennis—and Federer should forget about his lopsided defeat to Nadal at the French Open and instead recall that he won their previous five meetings, all on hard. Grass should be even more favorable to Federer, and that should give him even greater confidence entering this semifinal.
Jamie Lisanti: I know it’s hard for all of us watching to not think about the monumental, “greatest tennis match ever played” battle between Federer and Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final, so there’s no doubt it’s going to be on the minds of both players on Friday—but particularly for Federer. If you remember (and Wertheim knows this match inside and out, better than anyone else) Federer was facing a pro-Nadal crowd that chanted "Come on, Rafa” during pivotal moments in the match. But this time around, Federer is sure to be playing (on his best surface) in front of an audience that should be squarely in support of him. And this should help, because the match will be so close that the cheers might be what Federer needs to take him past Nadal to major title No. 21.
Daniel Rapaport: Same as always, as far as I'm concerned: who comes out on top of the Nadal forehand-Federer backhand exchanges? Last month in Paris, it was Rafa. Two years ago in Melbourne, it was Federer. Nadal is going to try to attack Fed's one hander, and the efficacy of that strategy will go a long way toward determining who wins this match. He also has to serve at a high percentage and win over half of his second-serve points.
What are the keys to the match for Nadal?
JW: We know he matches up well with Federer and the physics/geometry favor his lefy game and forehand into the Federer one-handed backhand. We know he has momentum, having beaten Federer just a month ago in Paris—in the same round. We know he is leading 24-15 in the head-to-head. He’s also won the previous match he played with Federer here, the classic final in 2008. I think the big question for Nadal is how he deals with the occasion: a sold-out Centre Court crowd that will likely be favoring the other guy, largely for sentimental reasons.
SK: Nadal would prefer to play deep, and he’ll try to keep Federer near the baseline. To push Federer back, Nadal will have to punish Federer when he comes to the net, as he did with Sam Querrey on Wednesday, winning 12 or 27 points in which the American came forward. He’ll also need to put pressure on Federer’s serve; even if it doesn’t result in a break, pushing games to deuce will extend the match and make the 37-year-old’s task more difficult. Querrey, a formidable server, racked up 22 aces against Nadal, but the Spaniard managed six breaks on 16 opportunities. He won 27% of Querrey’s first-serve points and 72% on his second serve. Federer’s game is less reliant on a big serve, but Nadal needs to take advantage of any break chances.
JL: Of course, Nadal was the clear favorite on clay at the French Open but when it comes to the Wimbledon grass, the turf is Federer’s. That being said: Nadal has been in top-form over the fortnight, only dropping one set in the tournament in a second-round match against Nick Kyrgios. His serve will be critical in this match, but so will Federer’s. If I’m Nadal, I’d channel all the vibes I can from 2008 and then continue on the same course. This one will definitely be a battle.
DR: I'm with Stan—he's got to put pressure on Fed's service games. Part of what makes Federer so dominant on grass is the rhythm with which he plays—those quick, 45-second holds are an absolute essential part of the Federer on Grass experience. Nadal should want Federer to, figuratively of course, come roll aroudn in the dirt with him. Make the games long. Turn it into a physical battle.
JW: Rafa in five? But let’s pause and acknowledge that this is ultimately a toss-up which is just remarkable for two guys at this stage of their careers...
SK: Federer in four sets.
JL: I'm sticking with my original pick from the beginning of the tournament: Roger Federer. BUt the more we discuss this match, the more I realize that it is a pure coin toss. All I know is I can't wait to watch.
DR: All of us, for getting to witness these two legends face off at the sport's most iconic tournament once again. But, seriously, Federer straight sets. Bold!