QF Preview: Nadal, Federer Striving For More Wimbledon History
The Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal collision course has been derailed at Grand Slams before, and Kei Nishikori and Sam Querrey will do their best at Wimbledon on Wednesday to keep fans waiting for Federer-Nadal XXXX.
Federer and Nishikori kick off the bottom half's quarter-finals on Centre Court as they renew what's been a competitive FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry. The Japanese won their most recent contest, at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals, and pushed Federer to five sets in their only Grand Slam meeting at the 2017 Australian Open.
Too often Nishikori has arrived at this stage of a Slam already exhausted. At the Australian Open, he fought through three five-set matches only to retire with a leg injury in the quarter-finals after 12 games against Novak Djokovic. At Roland Garros, Nishikori slogged through back-to-back five-setters and managed only five games against Rafael Nadal.
This fortnight, however, Nishikori hasn't played a five-setter yet and all of his matches have ended before the three-hour mark.
“I'm sure it's going to be tough, but I feel like I am very confident this week, playing good tennis,” Nishikori said. “I'm happy to be playing Roger now because I think I'm in good shape... I know it's not going to be easy, but I will enjoy for sure.”
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Time on court has never been a worry for Federer, and that's remained the case at Wimbledon, where the eight-time champion has spent the least amount of time – six hours, 47 minutes – of all the quarter-finalists.
Federer lost his opening set of the fortnight but has rolled since, especially during his fourth-round match against MercedesCup champion Matteo Berrettini of Italy. The 37-year-old Federer advanced after 74 minutes, the shortest men’s match in the Round of 16 or later since at least 2002.
“Obviously today was excellent. I was very happy. I was expecting a tough match and a close one with not many chances. It was actually quite the opposite, so that was great,” Federer said.
The Swiss, 99-12 at Wimbledon, is trying to become the first player to win 100 matches at a Grand Slam. But he knows better than to expect a breezy repeat of his fourth-round match against the veteran Nishikori, who is seeking his first Wimbledon semi-final.
It'd be easy to say Federer will roll into triple digits at The Championships as no one has come close to slowing him down thus far. But Nishikori has unexpectedly spoiled Big Three Grand Slam matchups before – see 2014 US Open, when the Japanese beat Novak Djokovic en route to his only Grand Slam final – and he has the all-court game to match that of Federer's.
Additionally, Nishikori owns the best deciding-set record in the Open Era (132-45, 75%) and has won his past eight five-set matches. The last five-setter Nishikori lost was in Melbourne against Federer.
“He's getting into the quarters with a lot of energy,” Federer said. “I remember some of the Slams recently he arrived into the later stages of Slams with maybe some tough matches going into it. So far it's been really easy for him. I think he's ready.”
Nadal-Querrey might be the most intriguing of all the quarter-finals because of the contrast in styles that should delight the Court No. 1 crowd. Nadal brings an improved 1-2 serve-forehand combination but also the ability to play defence as long as needed, whereas Querrey will have one and only gameplan against the two-time Wimbledon champion: serve big.
It has worked in the past. Querrey upset Novak Djokovic in the 2016 third round and Andy Murray in the 2017 quarter-finals. The American was two sets away from reaching the 2017 title match after claiming the opening set versus Marin Cilic in their semi-final. The same strategy also worked for the 6'6” right-hander against Nadal during the 2017 Acapulco final, his lone FedEx ATP Head2Head win against the Spaniard.
Querrey has hit 100 aces and landed 86 per cent of his first serves this fortnight. “I'm locked in on it. I have got a good rhythm. This is a tournament that rewards good servers. Everything feels right on my serve,” Querrey said.
But Nadal won't be phased if the aces begin to tally up during their first FedEx ATP Head2Head Wimbledon meeting. The Spaniard didn't see a break point against Aussie Nick Kyrgios during the final two sets yet advanced 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(3) to reach the third round.
“When [Querrey] plays well, he can be very, very dangerous in all surfaces. But, of course, in fast surfaces, when he serves with his aggressive game, maybe more,” Nadal said.
The Spaniard has won two titles at SW19 and made five finals. He's looking to make back-to-back Wimbledon semi-finals for the first time since 2010-11.
The World No. 2 arguably has had the toughest road of all of the Big Three, having to beat grass-court champion Yuichi Sugita, Kyrgios, two-time semi-finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Portugal's Joao Sousa to make his seventh quarter-final. Nadal is 6-0 in Wimbledon quarter-finals.
“He's been rolling through guys,” Querrey said. “I'm going to have to serve incredibly well, take my chances when I get them, hopefully I can have a good day out there.”