Three to See, Day 9: Will we get a Nadal v. Djokovic semifinal?

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Rafael Nadal is a two-time Wimbledon champion. (AP)

Each day, Steve Tignor previews three must-see matches at Wimbledon.

1. Roger Federer [1] vs. Kevin Anderson [8]

The quarterfinals mean that the tournament has reached its “business end”—for the top players, that means early-round play time is over, and heavyweight opponents loom. Is that true in Federer’s case here? Anderson has a heavyweight ranking—No. 8—and he has propelled himself to that height with a powerful, proactive game. The 6’8” South African’s big-serve, big-forehand combination can work well on grass—he has pushed Novak Djokovic to the brink at Wimbledon—and his new, more aggressive emotional approach took him all the way to the US Open final last summer.

Yet Anderson will be playing in his first Wimbledon quarterfinal at age 32, and he has lost all four of his previous meetings to Federer in straight sets. This time I’ll think he’ll get one—and break Federer’s 33-set streak at Wimbledon—but he won’t get three. Winner: Federer

WATCH—Daily Serve from Day 8 at Wimbledon:

2. Novak Djokovic [12] vs. Kei Nishikori [24]

Watching them play, you might think that Nishikori would have won more than two of their 16 meetings. He and Djokovic do essentially the same thing—rally really well—with essentially the same state-of-the-art ground-stroke weapons. Yet since 2014, one them, Djokovic, has always won. Nishikori can attack the way Djokovic does, but he doesn’t defend as consistently; more important, when they play, he doesn’t appear to believe he’s going to win.

Will he feel any differently in their first meeting on grass? Djokovic, as we know, isn’t the ultra-steady competitor that he was until 2016; each of his Grand Slam runs this year has been brought to a premature halt by opponents—Hyeon Chung and Marco Cecchinato—who don’t have Nishikori’s pedigree. So far in 2018, just when we think Djokovic has turned a corner, he turns back. Still, Nishikori was one point from being down two sets to one to Ernests Gulbis on Tuesday. If he’s going to take advantage of any dip in Djokovic’s play, he’ll have to raise his own game considerably. That’s never been his forte late in the majors. Winner: Djokovic​

3. Rafael Nadal [2] vs. Juan Martin del Potro [5]

After getting shellacked by Nadal in the French Open semifinals last month, del Potro admitted that Rafa was too good for him on clay. Will that also prove to be true on grass? Neither the Spaniard nor the Argentine loves turf, though their aggressive baseline games have worked pretty well on it in the past: Nadal is a two-time Wimbledon champion, while Del Potro made the semis—and nearly made the final—in 2013.

While the surface won’t give del Potro an advantage in this match, it also won’t disadvantage him the way clay does. A more important factor, I think, will be the memory of their last two Grand Slam clashes, at the French Open this year and the US Open last fall. Both times, del Potro played well early, but all that did was inspire Nadal to play better. Winner: Nadal​

Strokes of Genius is a world-class documentary capturing the historic 13-year rivalry between tennis icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is timed for release as the anticipation crests with Roger as returning champion, 10 years after their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.


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