Roger, back where we started?

 - Alix Ramsay

Federer defeats Nadal in the Wimbledon semi-final. Now he has a 9th title in sight.

Rafael Nadal congratulates Roger Federer at the net after the Swiss won their semi final match-up at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

It was if we had come full circle. When Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal started chasing each other around the world 15 years ago, Roger was the king of Wimbledon and Rafa was the king of Roland Garros.

As they butted heads in final after final at both venues, it seemed as if those lines of demarcation would never change. And then they did, suddenly and dramatically: Rafa won in SW19 in 2008 and Roger won in Paris the following year.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal through the window of the Centre Court at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Mighty Fed was being mighty

But now, coming together again on Centre Court for the first time in 11 years – since that 2008 final – it was the Mighty Fed who called the shots to win 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 just as Rafa had called the shots in the Roland Garros semi-final a handful of weeks ago. We were back where we started. 

The dominant, powerful, bustling, electric Rafa of the previous five rounds was not allowed to make his presence felt this time. Instead, the Mighty Fed was being mighty: he served well, he was hitting his backhand (that backhand that had spent most of its life being regarded as a weakness) with authority and venom and he was able to attack the net as and when he desired.

But it was what he was doing from the back of the court, from Rafa’s domain, that surprised all who saw it. He was beating Rafa from the baseline.


Roger Federer in the beautiful light at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“He's a champ, I'm a champ“

“Winning long rallies is always a nice feeling,” Federer said. “They were also played on a very high level in terms of speed and power and spin and everything. It's not just hitting cross-court balls to one another. You have some other opponents that produce that more for you. More of a waiting game. This is different. Almost every shot we're trying to win the point.

“I think it is important that I can win those, as well. But they're not the most important. I mean, I wonder if it took something out of him. I don't think so because on clay he does that in his sleep. Why shouldn't he be able to have a few long rallies and it deflate him? He's a champ, I'm a champ. We know how to handle a rally like that.”

But now, he has to do it all again against Novak Djokovic in the final on Sunday. He admitted to being exhausted when he came off court against Rafa – the physical effort had been one thing but the mental strain of concentrating for every second of the three hours and two minutes it took to win was utterly draining.

Roger Federer serving during his semi final at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The work was done way before

Federer will take it easy between now and the final – hit a few balls on Saturday, nothing to stressful, and warm up thoroughly on Sunday. He is 37 and his success depends on recovery at this stage; the hard work was done weeks ago.

“This is like a school,” he said. “The day of the test you're not going to read, I don't know, how many books that day. You don't have the time anyhow.

“It's quite clear the work was done way before. I think that's why I was able to produce a good result today. It's been a rock solid year from my side, won in Halle. Stars are aligned right now. From that standpoint I can go into that match very confident.”

Djokovic leads their rivalry with 25 wins to Federer’s 22 – and Federer has not beaten the Serb since the end of 2015. With all that history behind them, there are no surprises left for the final. As a result, the match comes down to the most basic of factors.

Novak Djokovic during his semi final at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Shooting for his 21st, aiming for a 16th

“At the end of the day it comes very much down to who's better on the day,” Federer said. “Who's in a better mental place, who's got more energy left, who's tougher when it really comes to the crunch. In the tennis, there's always somebody who's going to be a little bit better because there's no draws in our sport. It's always quite brutal sometimes. Don't want to say always the better player wins, but sometimes it can be tough.”

Federer is shooting for his 21st major trophy and his ninth at Wimbledon. Djokovic is aiming for his 16th major win and his fifth in SW19. They are the No.1 and No.3 players in the world – there is barely a cigarette paper between them. Maybe it will come down, as Federer says, to whose “stars are aligned right now.”

We will find whose are on Sunday afternoon.