[Murray] made a major error in… (competing) … at a time when three players of undisputed all-time greatness are all plying their trade. –Simon Barnes, The Times tennis reporter, 2012
The Golden Age continues
By Roger Childs
Simon Barnes was of course referring to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – arguably the three greatest men’s tennis players ever. Andy Murray did come through and pick up three grand slams, but injuries mean that he never joined the legends. The three kings, all in their 30s, continue to dominate, seven years after Barnes made his classic statement.
In possibly the most competitive sport on the planet, Fed, Rafa and the Joker have won an incredible 53 out of the last 64 major titles, and all of the last 10. Furthermore, either Djokovic or Federer will win the 2019 Wimbledon tournament on Sunday.
Semi-final one – the champion in great form
The packed centre court crowd sat in the summer sun on Friday and witnessed two excellent men’s semi-finals. The interloper was Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut who has played a number of the January Auckland tournaments. He is ranked 22 in the world and had only lost one set getting into the last four.
He was up against the world number one, Novak Djokovic. The defending champion broke the Spaniard’s service twice in the first set and breezed through to take it 6-2. The commentators and crowd probably thought this would be another easy three-setter for the Joker, but Bautista Agut had other ideas.
In set two he broke Djokovic’s service in the third game and held his own serve to take the set 6-4. The Spaniard is one of the fittest players on the circuit, has a fast serve and powerful ground strokes. He moved the Joker from side to side and hit a number of powerful winners. There were many excellent rallies, but Djokovic had some problems with his timing and under pressure made a number of unforced errors.
But it was business as usual for the champion in sets three and four, and he won those comfortably 6-3, 6-2 to book a place in his sixth Wimbledon final. Bautista Agut had played well, but couldn’t match Djokovic’s superb ground shots and deep and tightly angled placements in the final two sets. However, his appearance in the last four at Wimbledon this year will lift him in the world rankings.
The 40th meeting of the greats
Rafael Nadal leads Roger Federer 24-16 in this the most famous match-up in the history of men’s tennis. However the Swiss maestro had actually won five of the last six clashes prior to Friday’s semi-final. Nine of the battles have been in grand slam finals, including what many experts regard as the greatest match of all time – the 2008 Wimbledon final. After being two sets up, Nadal eventually prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. The match was not without controversy and finished in poor light which both players had complained about.
There were no light problems on Friday as the 37 year old Swiss played the 33 year old Spaniard.
Federer freely admits he can’t beat Rafa on clay, but grass is a different matter!
An entertaining match
The packed centre court crowd was not disappointed. They would have liked five sets but still got plenty of action and excitement from the two legends. Both players are very fit and athletic, and a number of times the crowd was ready to applaud a winner only to witness the long arm of Federer or the speedy Nadal putting a difficult return back into play.
The first set went with serve to the tie break with both players serving with great skill and speed. However, in the breaker at 3-3 the Swiss was able to win two points on the Spaniard’s serve and went on to win the set.
Federer lost his way and his timing in the second set and with two breaks of serve Nadal raced through to take it 6-1. But the Swiss maestro broke early in sets three and four, and went on to win the match 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. There were some spectacular rallies the like of which are not seen in any other match up, with plenty of superb cross-court winners from Nadal, powerful Federer backhands down the line, plenty of aces and wonderful volleying.
Basically the Swiss had the edge because of his faster, more consistent serving and his more aggressive, unpredictable approach. Nadal fought hard to the end and saved four match points before hitting a ball long on the fifth.
So Roger Federer, champion in 2017, will play last year’s winner Novak Djokovic in tonight’s final. This is a contest between two greats who have won 12 Wimbledon gentlemen’s finals between them, and will be well worth watching.