Tuesday 22 October 2019

Nadal sets up long-awaited clash of titans

Rafael Nadal celebrates his quarter-final win over Sam Querrey. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal celebrates his quarter-final win over Sam Querrey. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Daniel Schofield

Eleven years after a starburst of flashbulbs heralded the conclusion to perhaps the greatest tennis match ever played, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are booked to do it all over again on the Wimbledon grass.

The pair have had 22 duels since that indelible July evening in 2008, when the Spaniard defied the darkness to topple the champion, but none of them at the All England Club, scene of their most cherished battle.

When they file down the Centre Court steps tomorrow afternoon, they will evoke both a rush of nostalgia for the sport's past and a powerful sense of wonder that this contest still represents its present.

It took less time for Torvill and Dean to reunite for a second Winter Olympics than it has for Federer and Nadal to arrange an encore on the lawns of SW19. Moments before Nadal won the second set against Sam Querrey yesterday, an unmistakable murmur drifted into No 1 Court that confirmed Federer's passage into the semi-finals. Nadal was not going to pass up his date with destiny.

Poor Querrey was certainly not about to stand in his way. The American entered this quarter-final with the most fearsome serve in the tournament. He had dropped just one of his 73 service games prior to this match, firing down 100 aces in the process. Querrey served a further 22 against Nadal and was still broken six times in the Spaniard's 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

That is what Nadal does to you. Coming into this tournament after 12 months in which virtually every part of his body had been ravaged by injury, Nadal's speed of thought and foot remain a marvel to behold.

The third seed now enters tomorrow's blockbuster against Federer off the back of a 17-game winning streak, which encompasses his 12th French Open title. "I think I am playing with a very high intensity, playing aggressive, serving well and returning very well," Nadal said. "Today was a big challenge against a serve like Sam's. It is a victory that means a lot to me. I am very happy."

This is not the all-action Nadal model circa 2006-2011. As he admitted afterwards, he has had to compensate for his creaking limbs by serving harder, running less and volleying more. That would seem a recipe for success on what is historically his least successful surface. His touch at the net was positively Federer-esque - he lost only one of 14 points.

"I think we managed to add things because we lose things on the other hand," Nadal said. "We need to add new things because of the age."

Still, the final game brought enough snapshots of the Nadal of old to keep the nostalgics happy as he scrambled to return what looked like a surefire Querrey winner on the half-volley before sealing match point with a trademark curling forehand. He even removed his shirt, to the delight of a sizeable contingent of the patrons.

Even as an unseeded player, Querrey represented a vaseline smeared banana skin of an assignment for Nadal. Querrey had previously dispatched Djokovic and Andy Murray here in 2016 and 2017, while Nadal has been knocked out of these Championships by players of the not-so considerable calibre of Steve Darcis, Dustin Brown and Lukas Rosol.

But now the people have the rematch they have craved since the epic 2008 final. Like forbidden lovers they have been kept apart for 11 long years at these Championships almost as if the tennis gods determined they could not improve upon perfection. Tomorrow brings their opportunity to recreate their own Mona Lisa of tennis matches.

"To play against Roger always is a unique situation," Nadal said. "I'm excited to be back on this court against him after 11 years. It means a lot for me and probably for him, too. Excited about this match, excited about this opportunity to be again in that round against him.

"Always I say the same: of course, the opportunities to play against each other every time are less, but we still here. After tomorrow we are going to have another chance." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Wimbledon - Live BBC2, 12.30/BBC1, 1.45/ eir Sport 1, 12.55.

Telegraph.co.uk

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