Monday 21 October 2019

Federer and Nadal still cruising on course for showdown

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Jim White

It is 2008 all over again at Wimbledon. As Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer march on to the quarter-finals, a collision between the two titans in the last four looks ever more likely. In SW19, the clocks are about to be put back.

It is 11 years since the pair met in that extraordinary final, but what was remarkable watching the pair eviscerate their opponents on Centre Court yesterday was how kind the passage of time has been.

Unencumbered by receding hairlines and crow's feet, neither looks slower, neither looks less mobile. More to the point, their appetite for victory remains ravenous.

With a speed that was almost contemptuous, they put away a pair of players with a combined 17 years' youthful advantage and it was hard not to reach the conclusion that part of their longevity is down to the lack of proper competition they have faced.

Nothing makes an ageing sportsman face up to their depredations of chronology quite like being bettered by a younger man. And there was nothing like that here.

Nadal, though, was insistent - as he strove to make his first appearance in the Wimbledon final since 2011 - that he is not concerned with the performance of others.

"Personally, I am not thinking about sending a message to the next generation. I know they are good. I know there is going to be a day that they are in front of us. Because we are not kids any more," he said.

Mind you, out on Centre Court they looked anything but the senior citizens. There were times when Matteo Berrettini and Joao Sousa were simply dumbfounded, so outplayed all they could do was applaud.

It was Sousa who was the first victim of the old boys club. As processions go, this was speedy. What Sousa faced was a Nadal for whom every aspect of his game appeared to be in tip-top working order. Plus there is a real aggression in his play. This was Nadal at his most remorseless, pitiless in his power and placing.

There are those who have said that the courts are playing slower this season, which hugely suits his game. The suggestion is, because they are softer and with more give, the damage normally wrought on his physique is reduced. Nadal, though, was dismissive of the idea: "Honestly I don't think the courts are playing slower today than in 2003 when I came the first time."

Whatever is causing it, the man who had once looked emasculated by wear and tear, is storming back.

Then came poor Berrettini. His time in Centre Court went by even quicker than one of his 140mph serves. Federer, working through every aspect of his stupendous play book, had the Italian back in the changing room within just 74 minutes.

"Great performance today, a really good match from me," was the ever-modest Federer's analysis. "I've really gotten into a great groove here."

Incredibly, given their dominance over their sport, were the two of them to fulfil all expectation and arrive together in the semi-final it would mark the first time since that glorious apogee of 2008 that they had met here. But a Federer Nadal summit is drawing ever closer. Which is just as well. It is about time the two of them faced a proper challenge. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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