Wimbledon reaches crunch time

And so we finally get the showdown we all expected.

From the very beginning of this season’s All England Championships, the two men with the greatest Grand Slam records in history looked on collision course for the semi-finals. On Friday, it will happen, writes Yann Tear.

There have been so many epic battles down the years between Roger Federer (20 titles) and Rafael Nadal (18) but, astonishingly, this year will be the first time they meet in SW19 since the epic final of 2008  – and the final to end all finals.

That was the contest which lasted an incredible four hours and 48 minutes. The match where Federer came back from the dead after losing the first two sets to take it to a fifth, which Nadal clinched 9-7  at 9.16pm in the fading light to record the first of his two Wimbledon titles.

Wednesday’s quarter-finals were something of a procession. A phoney war before the real business begins. Federer did drop the opening set to Kei Nishikori in his last eight match, but soon reasserted his supremacy to take the next three sets to win 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

Nadal, even more ruthless, overpowered the big-hitting American Sam Querrey in double quick time, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

Federer, who has ruled over the lawns for years, knows he is in for the toughest of challenges against a man who is so much more than a clay court specialist.

“Rafa has improved so much over the years on this surface,” Federer said. “He’s also playing very different than he used to. We 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 how much bigger he’s serving, how much faster he’s finishing points.

“It’s impressive to see how sort of healthy he’s stayed. A lot of people were saying in 2008: ‘Oh, it’s the end.’ Similar to me in 2009. But we’re still here, so it’s nice to play each other again.”

Federer’s win was his 100th singles win at Wimbledon. No other player can match that tally at any one of the four major tournaments.

And then there is the world number one and defending champion, Novak Djokovic, lying in wait on the other side of the draw. He too did not hang about yesterday, getting the job done quickly against Belgian David Goffin.

Djokovic sealed the deal in under two hours, after meeting some resistance in the opening set, when he dropped serve to trail 3-2, but secured his semi-final place with a 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 win.

For the reigning champion, it was his 70th Wimbledon singles win, and he is looking in good shape to claim a fifth All England title – and a 16th Grand Slam – albeit with a massive obstacle standing in his way in the final, should he make it.

“He started well, he was dictating play from the baseline,” Djokovic said after his win. “Who knows what the match would have looked like if I had lost the first set?”

With only one set dropped on his way to a ninth Wimbledon semi-final, against Poland’s Humbert Hurkacz, the top seed’s progress has been serene, and he now takes on Roberto Bautista-Agut of Spain on Friday for a place in Sunday’s final.

“I had a tough match in the third round. Other than that, I’ve won in straight sets and played really well throughout the tournament,” Djokovic said after his latest Centre Court win.

“It’s exactly what I wanted, and hopefully I can go in the right direction in the semis as well.”

Bautista Agut is the man who has found his way onto the very top table for a shot at unexpected glory. The Spaniard overcame Guido Pella of Argentina in four sets: 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

For the 31-year-old world number 22, it will be his first ever Grand Slam semi-final, but he is having a good year, having made this year’s Australian Open quarter-finals.

It would the shock of the tournament – in the men’s singles at least – if he were to beat Djokovic tomorrow but he has earned his place on merit, dropping only one set so far on his march to the last four.

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