It’s just like old times at Wimbledon in more ways than one.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will duel here for the first time since the colossal 2008 final — considered by many of tennis’ cognoscenti to be the greatest match ever — after overcoming a few bumps against Kei Nishikori and Sam Querrey, respectively, in the quarterfinals.
“I think everyone can’t wait to watch it,” Hall of Famer Kim Clijsters told CNN. Herself included.
Federer rallied and ultimately eased past Nishikori 4-6 6-1 6-4 6-4, while Nadal edging a tight first set was the key in his 7-5 6-2 6-2 win against Querrey, a Wimbledon giant slayer.
“Excited about the match,” said the 33-year-old Nadal, who prevailed 11 years ago to snap Federer’s five-year reign at SW19 after a defeat in the 2007 finale that reduced him to tears.
“Always I say the same. Of course, the opportunities to play against each other every time are less, but we are still here.”
This is turning out to be a spectacular European grand slam season for fans of the rivalry, since the duo also met at the French Open last month for the first time since 2011.
Nadal won in hurricane like winds in the semifinals on the surface he owns and proceeded to land a 12th French Open crown and 18th major — now only two shy of the 37-year-old Federer.
Despite falling in the 2008 final in five hours and fading light, Federer owns a men’s record eight Wimbledon titles and 2-1 advantage over his left-handed foe on grass.
“Haven’t played each other on this surface in a long, long time,” said Federer. “It’s impressive to see how healthy he’s stayed. We’re still here. So it’s nice to play each other again.”
And let’s not forget about Novak Djokovic, only Wimbledon’s defending champion.
When he crushed David Goffin 6-4 6-0 6-2, it meant the men’s Big Three all advanced to the semifinals at Wimbledon for the first time since the rain soaked 2007 edition.
There has been no rain this fortnight at a sometimes wet Wimbledon but even if it does come in the ensuing days, a roof over Center Court has things covered.
The outsider trying to upend the world No. 1 is the dogged Roberto Bautista Agut, who ended Guido Pella’s breakthrough grand slam 7-5 6-4 3-6 6-3 to clinch a maiden semifinal berth at a major.
Bautista Agut was meant to be on his bachelor party in Ibiza ahead of his wedding in the fall but will happily reschedule. His friends will instead watch him against 15-time major winner Djokovic in person.
Nishikori, Querrey and Goffin all won their last encounters against Wednesday’s opponents but they discovered — like countless others over the past decade — that replicating the feat at a grand slam is a completely different proposition.
At least in terms of sets, Federer had the toughest time after needing only 74 minutes to brush aside upstart Matteo Berrettini on Monday.
The Swiss suspected he would be tested against Nishikori given the Japanese shotmaker was finally well rested going into a grand slam quarterfinal — the 2014 US Open finalist retired against Djokovic in Melbourne and was handily dispatched by Nadal at Roland Garros — and was proved correct.
Nishikori’s lasers earned the seventh seed a quick 2-0 advantage and Federer escaped from 0-40 to avoid a 3-0 hole.
If, however, the first set was all about the pressure Nishikori created on Federer’s serve, it was the opposite in the last three. Federer manufactured 13 break points to Nishikori’s one.
Nishikori indeed couldn’t maintain his early momentum and perhaps the turning point was Nishikori getting broken in his opening service game of the second.
The set quickly vanished and Nishikori was always hanging on thereafter.
Federer netted his 100th win at Wimbledon, the first man to reach a century at a single major.
Querrey, meanwhile, wasn’t overawed confronting Nadal. This is the same player who beat Djokovic and Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2016 and 2017, respectively, when they were the defending champions.
The American led this year’s event in aces with 100 and had only been broken once.
No wonder Nadal leaped with joy when breaking for 2-1 in the first set with a forehand cross court passing shot.
But cruising on serve at 4-3, the rest of the set became a struggle for the Spaniard.
Break or set points surfaced in the next five games, with Querrey saving two of three set points at 3-5 with aces.
Nadal dropped serve for 5-5 but restored his break superiority by converting on a fourth chance and saved three break points to hold for 7-5.
The unseeded Querrey never recovered.
The American picked Federer to go on and win the tournament but added that Nadal could, too.
Querrey is another who’ll be watching their tussle. In his case that will be back home in California.
“I know they haven’t played here in a long time,” he said. “It seems a little more exciting, more special they are playing at Wimbledon maybe rather than outside of a grand slam.”
With Cori “Coco” Gauff’s breakthrough, an early blockbuster between Nadal and Nick Kyrgios and Serena Williams and Murray featuring in mixed doubles, Djokovic has largely gone unnoticed this Wimbledon — barring issues surrounding the ATP’s player council.
But he is sure to garner more attention now given the way he routed Goffin to close on a second straight Wimbledon title and fifth overall.
Once the Serbian overturned a break deficit of 4-3, 30-0 in the first, a ninth semifinal at SW19 was a formality. That milestone ties Djokovic with his influential former coach Boris Becker.
“I’ve been playing best tennis in this tournament in the last two rounds, fourth round and today,” said Djokovic. “Especially today second set and third set against Goffin, who was in form, I felt like I managed to dismantle his game and find always the right shots.”
Bautista Agut is 2-0 against Djokovic in 2019 but it will take some effort by the 23rd seed to do what Goffin couldn’t and oust him at a major.
For all the spotlight on the contest between Federer and Nadal, Djokovic might be the beneficiary if he, as expected, makes Sunday’s final — especially if Nadal and Federer play another marathon in their long awaited Wimbledon rematch.