Wimbledon Semifinal Previews: Anderson vs. Isner; Djokovic vs. Nadal

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Novak Djokovic appears to be rediscovering his game at the right time. (AP)

Steve Tignor previews the men's semifinals at Wimbledon. 

1. Kevin Anderson [8] vs. John Isner [9]

Most, but not all, signs point to an Isner win in this battle of the geriatric—i.e., over 30—giants. Isner leads their head to head 8-3, and he has won their last five meetings; the last time Anderson turned the tables against his fellow flamethrower was in 2012. Isner also won their only meeting on grass, at Queen’s Club in 2008. Just as important, Isner, having saved a match point against Ruben Bemelmans in the second round, must feel as if he’s playing with house money here. The 33-year-old American maintained a very high level of aggression and confidence to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas and Milos Raonic and reach his first Grand Slam semifinal. You would hardly know that he had never been past the third round at Wimbledon in nine tries.

But the same goes for the 32-year-old Anderson, who also reached his first Wimbledon quarterfinal, and now semifinal, this week. He did it in more spectacular fashion than Isner, too, coming back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer 13-11 in the fifth. It doesn’t get much bigger than that, which means the question now becomes: Will such a titanic victory build Anderson’s confidence, or will it lead to a letdown, as it has for so many others who have knocked off Federer at the Slams over the years? While Anderson has lost five straight matches to Isner, two of them went to final-set tiebreakers, and the last time they faced off was in 2015, well before Anderson revamped his game and his mindset and cracked the Top 10. Having reached the US Open final last year, Anderson will also be one-up on Isner in the big-stage experience department. Winner: Isner​

WATCH—Daily Serve from Day 10 at Wimbledon:

2. Rafael Nadal [2] vs. Novak Djokovic [12]

Their 12-year rivalry stands at 26-25 in favor of Djokovic, but those numbers don’t reflect the topsy-turvy nature of the on-court relationship between the Spaniard and the Serb. Historically, one dominates for a period of time, until the other finally wins an important match, shifts the psychological balance, and begins a run of his own. Since 2013, Djokovic has generally had the upper hand on Nadal, winning 11 of their 14 meetings. But Rafa has won the last two in straight sets. 

While both of those Nadal victories came on clay, they may set the tone for how this match begins. I’d guess that Rafa will have more self-belief than Djokovic in the early going. However many times he’s lost to Djokovic in the past—and that includes the 2011 Wimbledon final—he’s currently No. 1 and coming off a major title in Paris, while Djokovic is still climbing his way back up the charts. If Nadal gets off to a fast start, Djokovic could find himself struggling to believe that he’s ready to win this type of match.

But if and when Djokovic does break serve, or win a set, or save a set point, or do something to fire himself up and sow doubt in Nadal’s head, all of that could be turned upside-down in a hurry, the same way their rivalry has been turned upside-down in a hurry in the past. On Wednesday, we saw Nadal’s confidence, and even his intensity, briefly wane when Juan Martin del Potro forced his way into their quarterfinal late in the second set. If Djokovic does the same thing, there’s a better chance he’ll make Rafa pay for any lapse. 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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