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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Roger Federer celebrates after defeating Rafael Nadal to win a men’s semifinal match Friday at Wimbledon.

  • Associated Press Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning a men's quarterfinal match against United States' Sam Querrey on day nine of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Wednesday, July 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Saturday, July 13, 2019 1:00 am

Federer tops Nadal in 4 sets to reach final

HOWARD FENDRICH | Associated Press

WIMBLEDON, England – After waiting 11 years to get another shot against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, Roger Federer was so, so close to the finish line.

One match point slipped away when Federer missed a forehand return. A second came and went on a backhand return. Later, serving for a spot in a record 12th final at the All England Club, Federer shanked a leaping overhead off the top edge of his racket frame, giving Nadal a break point. After Nadal wasted that chance, Federer earned two more match points – and failed to convert those, either, as his wife, Mirka, peeked through the fingers covering her face.

Federer knew it wouldn't be easy against his great rival. Never is, really, no matter where they play. Eventually, Nadal pushed a backhand long on match point No. 5 to bring an anticlimactic close to the otherwise classic contest, allowing Federer to win their semifinal 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Friday.

“I'm exhausted. It was tough at the end,” Federer said. “I'm just very relieved it's all over.”

Federer closed in on a ninth championship at the All England Club and 21st Grand Slam trophy in all. To get to those numbers in Sunday's final, Federer must get past Novak Djokovic, who is the defending champion and seeded No. 1.

“We all know how good he is anywhere,” Djokovic said about Federer, “but especially here.”

Djokovic isn't too shabby himself. He reached his sixth final at the grass-court major by beating 23rd-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 earlier Friday. Djokovic is eyeing a fifth championship at Wimbledon and 16th major title.

As entertaining as that first semifinal was – including a 45-stroke point won by Djokovic – it was merely a tasty appetizer ahead of the day's delectable main course.

Not only was this the 40th installment of Federer vs. Nadal, but it also was their first meeting at Wimbledon since the 2008 final. In a match many consider the best in the sport's lengthy annals, Nadal edged Federer 9-7 in a fifth set that ended after 9 p.m., as any trace of daylight disappeared.

When Federer and Nadal strode out into the sunshine at 4:30 p.m. Friday, they were welcomed by a standing ovation before ever swinging a racket.

Quickly, that greeting was justified. These are, of course, two of the greats of all-time, and they lived up to that status for stretches.

One key, for Federer, was that his rebuilt backhand, hit strong and flat more frequently than it used to be, held steady against Nadal's bullwhip of a lefty forehand. Another was that Federer was able to withstand Nadal's serve, which has improved over the years. Federer amassed 10 break points, and though he succeeded on just two, that was enough, with the last, vital conversion making it 2-1 in the fourth set. And then there was this: Federer won 25 of the 33 points when he went to the net.

Who else but Federer could strike a serve so well that Nadal's wild reply would be caught by someone in the Royal Box behind him, as happened early in the second set? Who else but Nadal could attack Federer's generally unassailable forehand in such a manner as to draw one so off the mark that it landed in the third row?

No one ever has managed to reduce Federer to mid-match mediocrity quite the way Nadal can, part of why the Spaniard entered Friday with a 24-15 lead head-to-head, including 10-3 at Grand Slam tournaments.

Djokovic, meanwhile, leads his series with Federer 25-22.

“I hope I can push him to the brink and hopefully beat him. But it's going to be very difficult, as we know,” Federer said. “He's not No. 1 just by chance.”