Federer Beats Nadal, Sets Sights On Ninth Wimbledon Title
Swiss faces World No. 1 Djokovic in Sunday's final
Roger Federer booked a place in his 12th final at The Championships, where he will attempt to lift a record-extending ninth trophy after a tactical masterclass against his long-time rival, Rafael Nadal, a two-time former titlist, on Friday at Wimbledon.
The Swiss superstar played at his aggressive best on return of serve, at the net and in long rallies to beat World No. 2 Nadal 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in their semi-final, which lasted three hours and two minutes, on Centre Court.
Federer seized the momentum in his 40th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting against Nadal with a break of serve at 3-1 in the third set and, in spite of an early break in the fourth set, kept 18-time Grand Slam championship winner Nadal at bay before converting his fifth match point chance. It was their first grass-court clash since their legendary 2008 Wimbledon final, which Nadal won 9-7 in the fifth set.
“It's always very, very cool to play against Rafa here, especially [as we] haven't played [here] in so long,” said Federer. “It lived up to the hype, especially from coming out of the gates, we were both playing very well. Then, the climax at the end, with the crazy last game, some tough rallies there. It had everything at the end, which was great, I guess. I'm just relieved it's all over at this point.
“But it's definitely, definitely going to go down as one of my favourite matches to look back at, again, because it's Rafa, it's at Wimbledon, the crowds were into it, great weather. I felt like I played good also throughout the four sets. I can be very happy.”
The 37-year-old becomes the third oldest man in the Open Era (since 1968) to reach a Grand Slam championship final and now challenges World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the defending champion and four-time winner, on Sunday in a blockbuster clash at the All England Club. Djokovic, who beat No. 23 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in the semi-finals earlier on Friday, leads Federer 25-22 in their career series, including victories in the 2014 and 2015 Wimbledon finals.
Federer, who registered his 100th Wimbledon match win over Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, will now attempt to capture the 21st major championship crown of his career in his 31st final. The World No. 3 won the Wimbledon title in 2003-07, 2009, 2012 and 2017. Australia’s Ken Rosewall, who reached the final at 1974 Wimbledon, aged 39 years and 246 days, and two months later at the 1974 US Open, aged 39 years and 310 days, remains the oldest Grand Slam finalist since April 1968.
Nadal stood deep behind the baseline on return of serve and Federer soon picked up on the ploy, exposing the angles of the court and serve and volleying with great frequency. The match, played in breezy conditions at the All England Club, went with serve to the tie-break, but Federer did have a break point on Nadal’s serve at 3-4, 30/40, when the Spaniard’s excellent footwork helped. Nadal got himself out of trouble at 5-6, 40/0, losing three straight points, but in the tie-break raised his game to lead 3/2. From that point, Federer went on the attack, stepping into the court and rushing the net to win five of the next six points to clinch the 52-minute opener. Federer completed the set with a forehand, his 16th winner.
“I thought it was a tough first set with not many chances,” said Federer. “[It] came down to I thought a really good tie-break. I think I served well there, but [I] also came up with some really good returns and rallies. He got off the gates faster with a great lob, I believe, to get the mini break first. As the first set was dominated by a lot of good serving, I thought that was probably a big problem for me. But I was able to get out of that one."
Having won 27 of his 34 service points in the first set, Federer came under pressure in his opening service game of the second set, but continued to back himself at the net. The Swiss saved Nadal’s first break point with a smash and fired a backhand volley to deny the Spaniard on his second opportunity. One game later, it was Nadal’s turn to feel the heat as he recovered from 15/40, but Federer was still able to step inside the baseline. While Nadal’s return positioning, deep behind the baseline, was questioned, he soon won 10 points in a row, capitalising on a lapse in concentration from Federer, who lost his serve to love after a backhand error.
“I think [the] second set got tougher with the sun coming through on the Royal Box end,” said Federer. “So I got broken there. Also [there was] a little bit against the wind on the other side. Rafa was in the zone there. Maybe, also, I didn't serve as well. It was a close match and he was able to take charge after I had a couple chances early on in that second set, so that was tough. I was able to stick to my game plan, stay aggressive, stay offensive. I guess I also started to serve a bit better maybe after that second set."
Nadal carried the momentum, with Federer’s level dropping slightly in a 10-minute period. Federer mis-timed a forehand on approach to the net to give Nadal a 5-1 lead and the Spaniard then calmly closed out the second set with a hold to love — ending with an unreturned serve. Nadal won 30 of 45 points in the set, with 17 of 23 service points won.
As the intensity level increased early in the third set, Federer out-duelled Nadal in the fourth game, showcasing tremendous defence before ripping a backhand winner down the line for a break point. Nadal was then drawn to the net at 30/40, before Federer hit a backhand volley winner into space for a 3-1 advantage. Federer dug himself out of a 15/40 deficit in the next game, saving three break points – with Nadal left to rue missing a second serve return when Federer served at 0/30. Federer started to win the longer rallies, playing aggressively on return of serve, without mistakes to ensure that Nadal was placed on the back foot. The 2008 and 2010 titlist came back from 15/40 at 1-4, but Federer wasn’t to be denied as he soon secured the 37-minute set.
“The early break in the third set, I had a couple of mistakes in that moment. That was a tough moment I needed to resist. The beginning of the third set probably was one of the keys of the match,” said Nadal. “I started to play much better at the end of the match, but it was too late.”
Federer rode the momentum and broke early in the fourth set and later a deep forehand return helped him set up his first match point opportunity at 5-3. Nadal got back to Deuce with a well-placed serve that the Swiss returned long and a second match point chance came and went, with Nadal serving out wide in the Ad court. Upon winning the game for 4-5, Nadal ran to his chair and proceeded to take off the strapping on his left foot.
“I think I won a lot of the important points in the third and fourth sets," said Federer. "There were some brutal rallies in key moments that went my way. I think those might have made the difference today.”
A break point soon went begging with a backhand error to end an 11-stroke rally, and Federer could not convert two further match points, but at the fifth time of asking he earned his 38th match win of the season. Federer pumped his fists in celebration. He struck 51 winners, including 14 aces, saving six of eight break points against Nadal, who committed 25 unforced errors.
"It's been a tough one. I had my chances, but he played a little bit better than me," said Nadal. "Probably I didn't play as good as I did in the previous rounds, and he played well. So he deserves it. Congrats to him."
The 33-year-old Nadal, who captured his 12th Roland Garros trophy (d. Thiem) last month, is now 37-6 on the year, which also includes a ninth Internazionali BNL d'Italia title. He had been attempting to win his third Roland Garros/Wimbledon title double this fortnight (also 2008, 2010). He also became the first player to qualify for the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals, to be held at The O2 in London from 10-17 November, after his quarter-final win over Sam Querrey at The Championships on Wednesday.