Men's Wimbledon semifinal previews: Federer vs. Nadal a turf toss-up

Men's Wimbledon semifinal previews: Federer vs. Nadal a turf toss-up

It's the 40th meeting between Federer and Nadal, who recently squared off at the French Open semifinal.

Friday at Wimbledon features the men's semifinals. Here, previews and picks of the tournament's final four:

Novak Djokovic vs. Roberto Bautista Agut

When Djokovic was asked about the prospect of facing Bautista Agut after his quarterfinal win on Wednesday, he didn’t sound all that thrilled by it. Understandably: while the Spaniard isn’t a high seed or a big name, he wouldn’t have been Djokovic’s first, or even 10th, choice of semifinal opponents. That’s because Bautista Agut has won both of their meetings in 2019, in Doha and Miami, and has played him tough on other occasions in the past.

Bautista Agut is something of a Djokovic Mini-Me: Like the Serb, he’s steady, he’s quick, he’s patient, he has a two-handed backhand that’s every bit as solid as his forehand, and he doesn’t have any easily exploitable weaknesses. He’s also playing the best grass-court tennis of his life. Like Djokovic, RBA has dropped just one set in his five matches here.

Put all of that together, and Djokovic must know that if his level drops at all, Bautista Agut is someone who could make him pay for it. In both of their matches this year, Djokovic won the first set, before Bautista Agut came back to win the last two. Still, Djokovic is 3-0 against him at the majors (all three were four-setters), and the upside of losing to someone twice in a season is that you probably won’t take him lightly the third time. Winner: Djokovic

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal

Maybe it’s the fact that this is a semifinal rather than a final. Maybe it’s because they just played in Paris a few weeks ago. Maybe it’s the fact that the 10th anniversary of their 2008 Wimbledon epic came last year. Maybe it’s because you can’t make Strokes of Genius twice. Whatever the reason is, there hasn’t been anything approaching the buzz around a potential Federer-Nadal matchup on Centre Court that there was last year.

Which is fine. Judging by the way these two are playing right now, the match itself should more than make up for the muted hype that has surrounded it.

I’d say it’s a toss-up. The surface will obviously be the biggest thing in Federer’s favor. He’s an eight-time champion here compared to two for Nadal, and grass—even the putatively slow grass of 2019—accentuates all of his strengths, from his serve to his forehand to his transition game to his predilection for the attack. Federer hasn’t reached his peak level so far at Wimbledon, yet no one has seriously challenged him, either. He likes to shift into another gear in the semis and final here, and there’s room for him to do that again.

He may need to, because as far as their current form goes, Nadal may have the edge. He had a tougher draw than Federer, but has dropped just one set. More important, he’s excelling at the two things you must do well to win on grass: serving and returning. Against Sam Querrey on Wednesday, Rafa won 82 percent of his first-serve points, and used his serve in clutch, Federer-esque fashion to save six of seven break points. On the return side, Nadal has been a virtual service-break machine. In his first five matches, Querrey was broken once; Nadal broke him six times in three sets.

Nadal will take confidence from having just beaten Federer at the French, and he’ll probably feel as if he has a little less to lose on Federer’s turf, at least at first. But this is Federer’s turf for a reason; he’s 11-1 in Wimbledon semifinals. Winner: Federer