Federer, Nadal renew great rivalry in Wimbledon semifinals

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Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer

FILE – In this Sunday, July 6, 2008 file photo Spain’s Rafael Nadal left, shakes the hand of Switzerland’s Roger Federer after winning the men’s final on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. After going more than 1½ years 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. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — After going more than 1½ years 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.

Last month, Nadal got his shot at Federer on red clay, winning their wind-whipped French Open semifinal in straight sets on the way to a 12th title there.

“We had some brutal conditions to play (in) there. But it was a joy to play against Rafa there, on his court,” Federer said. “And, of course, I’d love to play against him here at Wimbledon.”

On Friday, Federer gets his shot at Nadal on grass and hopes to prolong his pursuit of a ninth championship at the All England Club.

“Means a lot for me,” Nadal said, “and probably for him, too.”

This is their 40th showdown on tour; Nadal leads 25-14. It’s their 14th match at a major; Nadal leads 10-3. And it’s the fourth time they’ll play at Centre Court; Federer leads 2-1.

But Nadal did win the last one, edging Federer 9-7 in the fifth set of the 2008 final — considered by many the greatest match in tennis’ lengthy history — as daylight dwindled to nothing.

That would never again be an issue, because a retractable roof and artificial lights have been in place at the tournament’s main stadium since the following year. Another movable cover was added to No. 1 Court this year.

What hasn’t changed? Federer and Nadal are still at the top of the game.

If it’s hard to believe more than a decade has passed since these two rivals last shared a court at Wimbledon, it’s also tough to fathom how it is that they have dominated their sport as long as they have. Federer ranks first among men with 20 career Grand Slam titles. Nadal is next with 18. Add in the third-place count of 15 trophies belonging to Novak Djokovic, who is seeded No. 1 and plays No. 23 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in Friday’s other semifinal, and this terrific trio has won 53 of the last 64 major championships.

That includes 14 of the last 16 at Wimbledon. Also: 10 in a row everywhere over the past 2½ seasons.

Djokovic is seeking his fifth trophy, and second straight, at the All England Club, while Bautista Agut is making his Grand Slam semifinal debut.

Djokovic leads 7-3 head-to-head, but Bautista Agut won their two matchups this season, both on hard courts.

“Going to try to use my experience in being in these kind of matches, get myself tactically prepared,” Djokovic said. “Hopefully I can execute everything I intend to do.”

Although Federer turns 38 on Aug. 8, Nadal is 33 and Djokovic 32, they aren’t showing signs of letting up.

“We still (feel) that we have chances to compete for the most important things,” Nadal said. “That’s what really make us keep playing with this intensity.”

Not to mention keep working on aspects of their game.

Federer, for example, switched to a larger racket and began using a flatter backhand more frequently instead of a slice. Nadal has worked on his serving and that’s helped him once again be a contender on grass.

He reached the final during five consecutive Wimbledon appearances from 2006-11, winning twice, but hasn’t been that far since, including a series of exits against opponents ranked 100th or worse. Last year, he was beaten in five sets by Djokovic in the semifinals.

“Haven’t played each other in a long, long time on this surface. He’s serving way different. I remember back in the day, how he used to serve. And now, how much bigger he’s serving, how much faster he finishes points,” Federer said. “It’s going to be tough. Rafa really can hurt anybody on any surface. I mean, he’s that good. He’s not just a clay-court specialist, we know.”

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