Wimbledon: Centre of attention for rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Spain's Rafael Nadal and Switzerland's Roger Federer with their trophies back in 2008.
Spain's Rafael Nadal and Switzerland's Roger Federer with their trophies back in 2008.
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Rafael Nadal is excited for the next chapter of his enduring rivalry with Roger Federer.

The two greats – with 38 grand slams between them – will illuminate what has been an underwhelming men’s tournament at Wimbledon when they play in the semi-finals today.

Although they recently met at the same stage of the French Open last month, the 40th instalment of a thrilling match-up is the first at SW19 since the epic 2008 final – widely considered to be one of the best matches ever.

Nadal, who has won 24 of their previous meetings, emerged victorious that day, as he did in their match at his stronghold of Roland Garros a few weeks ago.

But Centre Court is very much Federer’s territory and the 37-year-old is looking as dangerous as ever.

Nadal has improved considerably on grass in recent years, but knows he is coming up against the greatest on this surface.

“I am excited about this match, excited about this opportunity to be again in that round against him,” he said.

“The opportunities to play against each other every time are less, but we are still here.

“I just expect to play against probably the best player of the history in this surface and know that I have to play my best if I want to have chances to try to be in that final. That’s all.

“I know he’s playing well. He feels comfortable here. And me, too. I’m playing well.”

Federer got the better of Nadal in the final of the Australian Open in 2017 and he believes that might have more significance than the recent loss at the French Open.

“Maybe the Australian Open final,” the Swiss said. “Obviously, best-of-five set match, five sets.

“Then again I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway. Who cares? It’s about how has he played so far, how have I played so far. I hope it goes my way. It’s going to be tough, you know. Rafa really can hurt anybody on any surface. I mean, he’s that good. He’s not just a clay court specialist, we know.”

Every tennis player will be glued to their TV today, according to three-time champion Boris Becker.

“I think it’s the one match where every tennis player alive is going to tune in,” he said. “Two ultimate warriors. One with 20 majors, the other 18.

“Everybody remembers the final of 2008. Yes of course the other semi-final is as important but just the numbers, the history in the making is something we want to see.”

Federer was looking for a sixth consecutive title and a third final victory in a row against Nadal when they took to Centre Court in 2008.

The Spaniard claimed a two-set lead but, with rain disrupting the match, Federer fought back to level, saving two match points in a gripping fourth-set tie-break.

With the threat of darkness forcing a postponement overnight – the roof was not installed on Centre Court until the following year – Nadal claimed the crucial break to win 9-7 in the decider after four hours and 48 minutes.

John McEnroe said: “It was the best match I’ve ever seen in my life.

“I was lucky enough that people used to talk about the match I had with Bjorn (Borg) in 80 but this one, everything surrounding it, the way it ended, the quality of tennis, to see Rafa finally get his first Wimbledon, was amazing.”

Nadal leads the head-to-head 24-15 but has not beaten Federer on any surface other than clay since 2014, losing five matches in a row on hard courts before stopping the rot in Paris last month.

That took Nadal to 18 slam titles overall, only two behind Federer’s all-time record, and McEnroe believes it is too close to call.

“Roger, it’s his court, like Paris is Rafa’s,” said the three-time Wimbledon singles champion.

“But Rafa has come in here, he’s playing unbelievable. You can over hype a match but I don’t think we can over hype this one.

“If he (Nadal) wins this and wins the tournament, he’s only one away.

“The last time it’s been this close was when it was 2-0. So this has got so much importance historically as well as just a classic match-up between a lefty and a righty, their styles, everything about it is amazing.”

World No 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic is a heavy favourite for a sixth Wimbledon final as he takes on Roberto Bautista Agut.

The Spaniard has never got this far in a grand slam and clearly was not expecting to this year as he booked his stag do in Ibiza for this week.

He has beaten Djokovic twice in 2019, but the Serbian is hoping experience will carry him through.

“He’s been definitely playing some very, very high-quality tennis in this tournament,” he said.

“He has won twice against me so far this year. That’s certainly going to give him confidence coming into the match.

“Obviously playing on grass, it’s different. Semi-finals of a grand slam, I’m going to try to use my experience in being in these kind of matches, get myself tactically prepared.

“Hopefully I can execute everything I intend to do.”

Bautista Agut added: “He is very solid from baseline. He likes to play a lot of rallies.

“Well, I like to play against an opponent like this, to play a match with a lot of rallies. Against Novak, that’s what we do.”