Roger Federer has made his fair share of history throughout his illustrious career. After finding himself down early to an inpsired Kei Nishikori in his Wimbledon quarterfinal on Wednesday, the second-seeded 37-year-old rallied past the No. 8 seed, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, to add two more milestones to his resume:
—The 20-time major champion became the first man to reach 100 match wins at a single major.
—He surpassed Jimmy Connors for the Open era record for most grass-court victories with 186.
Oh, and there's also this:
—On Friday, he'll face Rafael Nadal in the duo's first encounter at the All England Club since their iconic 2008 title match.
The semifinal showdown is what everyone is talking about, but first, let's look back at how Federer got there.
"It’s not like you’re, ‘I have to get my 100th, I have to get my 100th’ every point," Federer said afterwards in an interview with the BBC. "You’re trying to win the next point, the next game and eventually the match. You actually forget about it in the moment/
"But then a fan told me, ‘Congratulations Roger on your 100th!’ and I was like, ‘That’s right, that’s my 100th!’ It’s a sweet way to do it. A great crowd again and I love playing here at Wimbledon on this court. Getting against Kei was definitely very nice."
Federer, now 100-12 at the All England Club, is bidding to lift his ninth Wimbledon trophy. He improved to 13-4 in the quarterfinal stage, avoiding a repeat of last year’s elite-eight disappointment when he was upset by Kevin Anderson after holding match point. Federer leads the ATP tour with three titles in 2019, and should he triumph in London, would extend another Open era record he holds by capturing a 20th grass-court title. He is riding a 10-match win streak, having picked up his 10th Halle crown two-and-a-half weeks ago, and is 37-4 overall this season.
Federer and Nadal have not faced off on grass since Nadal prevailed in an instant classic, a clash many pundits and fans consider the greatest match of all time. Federer defeated the Spaniard in the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon finals, while Nadal won their latest meeting in last month’s Roland Garros semifinals to increase his head-to-head lead over the Swiss to 24-15. Both are seeking to become the first man to win five majors after turning 30.
Nishikori began with a purpose, breaking Federer with two well-timed backhand return winners. In the first set, Federer tossed in three double faults, and though Nishikori struggled to find the box on his first serve, he mixed up his variety beautifully with effective serve-and-volley execution and deep, compact hitting. Federer began to find his footing, but Nishikori capitalized on his opponent's earlier miscues to close out the set in 44 minutes.
From there, the Centre Court quarterfinal made a sharp turn. Federer was locked and loaded on serve, hitting spots to routinely hold, while getting more involved in Nishikori's service games to charge forward. Federer hit just one unforced error, to nine winners, to level the match and maintained his assertiveness on return to continue pressuring Nishikori’s decision making. He began poking holes in Nishikori’s serve and volley tactic, breaking for 4-3.
Though he would face a break point at 5-4, Federer served his way out of trouble to close out the third set. Nishikori did well to bail himself out of trouble in the fourth set, saving five break points, before Federer finally converted in the ninth game to put the match on his racquet. He ultimately secured victory in two hours and 36 minutes with a love hold, anchored with an ace. He improved to 8-3 against the 2014 US Open finalist, avenging defeat to Nishikori in last year's ATP Finals.
“It was difficult. The beginning was brutal,” Federer told the BBC. “Kei came out smashing return winners. I definitely had to make adjustments to stay with him. I just think at the end, I served really good. Once I got broken and was fighting in that first set, I was able to protect my serve well until the very end. It was a really good serving performance today against a great return player.”
Federer is seeking to reach his 12th final at the event. Nishikori dropped to 3-9 in major quarterfinals, adding to last eight finishes at this year’s Australian Open and French Open.