Friday’s Wimbledon semi-final between second seed Roger Federer and third Rafael Nadal has already been dubbed “XL” to commemorate the 40th meeting in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series (Nadal leads 24-15). When they face off on grass for the first time since their classic 2008 final at The All England Club, the clash will have all the ingredients for another extra-large chapter in one of the most iconic rivalries in sports.
“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,” said Nadal. “[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.”
Who will win the latest installment of this @FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry?
Nadal leads the series 24-15. | #Wimbledon
— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) July 11, 2019
Both men have been in top form this fortnight. Federer hit 206 winners to 88 unforced errors in his five matches at The Championships and produced at least a 2:1 winner-error ratio in three of them. His quarter-final victory over Kei Nishikori made him the first man to earn 100 match wins at a Grand Slam championship.
Most Wins By Grand Slam
|Australian Open||Roger Federer||97|
|Roland Garros||Rafael Nadal||93|
|US Open||Jimmy Connors||98|
Meanwhile, Nadal has been equally dominant. After getting the last word in a titanic second-round victory over Nick Kyrgios, the Spaniard found an even higher level on the grass. In his past three matches, he hit a staggering 109 winners to 34 unforced errors. Nadal also raised the stakes in his return games, racking up 35 break points and converting on 16.
Nadal’s run to the semi-final marks just the second time he’s only dropped one set in reaching the last four at Wimbledon. When he achieved the same feat in 2008, he went on to win the title over Federer.
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Their championship match that year is considered by many to be among the greatest matches in tennis history, so iconic that it spurred a book and even a documentary released last year. It took Nadal four hours and 48 minutes to finally outlast Federer in five sets for his first Wimbledon crown. The Swiss said afterwards that the match was “probably my hardest loss, by far.” Eleven years later, it’s possible that statement is still true for him.
The pendulum has swung several times in Federer and Nadal’s rivalry since then. The Spaniard won all five of their matches held in 2013-2014, then Federer broke the streak in the 2015 Basel final before scoring four more wins throughout 2017, including a five-set thriller in the Australian Open final. Nadal finally turned the tables last month in their Roland Garros semi-final, dominating the Swiss in straight sets before going on to secure his 12th crown on Court Philippe Chatrier (d. Thiem).
But for Federer, what happens in Paris, stays in Paris. When they take to Centre Court, the slate will be wiped clean in his mind.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. Who cares. It’s about how has he played so far? How have I played so far? I hope it goes my way,” said Federer. “It’s going to be tough. Rafa really can hurt anybody on any surface. He’s that good. He’s not just a clay-court specialist.”
No matter what happens on Friday, their latest meeting is a testament to the longevity and staying power of both men. Their first match took place more than 15 years ago at the Miami Open presented by Itau. Many of their peers in the draw that year have long since retired, but Federer and Nadal have not only continued to remain elite players on the ATP Tour, but keep putting themselves in position to win Grand Slam titles.
“A lot of them [were] saying [about Nadal] ‘Oh, it’s the end,’ by 2008. Similar to me in ’09. We’re still here,” said Federer. “So it’s nice to play each other again.”
It’s a sentiment that Nadal agrees with.
“Excited about this match, excited about this opportunity to be again in that round against him,” he said. “Always I say the same: of course, the opportunities to play against each other every time are less, but we are still here.”