Hard to believe, but this will be the first time Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer meet on a grass court, making their Wimbledon semifinal match, tipped to be the one that produces this year’s winner of the whole tournament, even more special than it already was supposed to be.
There’s no need to argue about who is the favorite. There shouldn’t be any doubt about Novak Djokovic. The world number one, the Wimbledon Champion, the Australian champion. He’s dropped only one set so far in this tournament, when even his country-mate, Viktor Troicki, couldn’t get more than 7 games out of Nole, even with some help from the crowd, which was probably the funnest moment in Wimbledon this year.
For Federer, it’s been a much harder road up to his first semifinal at the All-England’s club since 2009. The first two rounds against Ramos and Fognini were breezers, but then came the hard stuff, just when you wouldn’t expect it. A Friday afternoon walk turned into a massive comeback. Federer was already two sets down against Julien Benneteau, but powered through the next three, including a dramatic tiebreak in the fifth, the curshed Benneteau’s spirit.
Next round? Not much easier, as injury and age crept up to haunt Federer, dropping a set to Xavier Malisse and enjoying the rain delay which gave him time to get some treatment and come back like a new man for the fourth set and finish the match. The quarterfinal was rather anti-climating, beating Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
The record between them is still in favor of Federer, 14-12, but it doesn’t really portray the real balance of power between the two players in the last few years. Djokovic has won six of their last seven matches, including a 3-0 win in Paris a month ago, cruising against Federer at the French Open semifinal. He’s beaten Federer four times out of their last five matches in Grand Slam tournaments, his only defeat being the 2011 Roland Garros semifinal.
And it comes down to common sense. Can Federer play close to perfect tennis in a five set match? Probably not. Djokovic has been in good, dominating, crushing form in this tournament, capitalizing easily on mistakes and playing rather aggressively. Although Federer likes a shot making duel, eventually, he’ll probably be the first to make a mistake, and help Djokovic grab hold of the match. The knowledge that Novak can come back from two sets down against him is probably also somewhere in his head, knowing that closing a match against Djokovic is the hardest feat achievable on tour.
Prediction - It’s not about the head, it’s about the body. Can Federer’s body withstand long rallies and a long afternoon of tennis against the best player in the world? Knowing there’s no Rafael Nadal waiting in the final is probably an incentive for both men, but it simply looks like Djokovic is in a point in his career where only a perfect Federer performance can beat him. That won’t happen.