LONDON – Roger Federer’s 100th win at Wimbledon was none too shabby, but it was almost immediately submerged beneath the thought of what could happen to make it 101.
Eleven years and 21 meetings between the Swiss and Rafael Nadal have passed since they last came up against each other on grass, in that five-set final for the ages of 2008 which the Spaniard won 9-7 in the decider.
Now they are to meet again, the ageing process having barely withered either of the two men who have gone on to amass 20 and 18 Grand Slam titles respectively.
In some ways it feels that the men’s tournament can, on its second Friday, finally begin.
It never looked as though the big trio would be disturbed and so it has proved. The only man who seriously threatened to upset the established order was Nick Kyrgios, whose performance against Nadal has looked more and more creditable.
The likes of Kei Nishikori continue to be shut out and there was a familiar look to it all yesterday. Even though the nimble Japanese played well, especially early on, he was powerless to prevent a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Federer.
The Swiss has won so much that he was unaware of his century until a fan told him as he was making his way off the Centre Court.
The lack of Wimbledon match-ups between the old rivals has been largely caused by Nadal’s relatively modest record in these parts since 2011. The last time they met, at the French Open five weeks ago, will be completely irrelevant as it was on clay and blowing a Force 8 gale at the time.
“We have a lot of information. You can either dive into that or go out there and play attacking tennis and see how he defends it,’ said a supremely relaxed Federer, who does not believe their history of 36 matches has any relevance.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. Who cares? It’s about how has he played so far, how have I played so far? I hope it goes my way.
“People always hype it up. It was a joy to play against Rafa on his court at the French Open and I’m very excited to play him here. It’s going to be tough. Rafa really can hurt anybody on any surface. He’s that good. He’s not just a clay court specialist. He’s serving way different. I remember back in the day how he used to serve and now how much bigger he’s serving, how much faster he finishes points.
“It’s impressive to see how sort of healthy he’s stayed. A lot were saying, “Oh, it’s the end” by 2008. Similar to me in ‘09. We’re still here.”
This is only the second time the Big Three have made the semi-finals together at Wimbledon, even though their extraordinary dominance at the top of the men’s game shows no sign of fading.
A feature of this event has been the lacklustre performance of the younger challengers and the interloper in the last four is 31-year-old Roberto Bautista Agut.
“It’s definitely not a regular time in tennis in the men’s game because I don’t think we would have thought that Novak, me and Rafa were going to be so solid, so dominant for so many years,” said Federer.
“I think that, number one, stopped a lot of runs from the younger guys. Number two, I’m not sure, were they as talented as Rafa, Novak, and myself? I just think it’s kind of tough to get to the top because Novak and Rafa are still so, so good.”
A feature of Federer this season has been his blistering starts. Yesterday was not one of them as the Japanese unexpectedly attacked the net and it took Federer time to find his serve.
Once he had done so, there was only one winner and he will be reassured by how much rhythm he found against one of the best returners in the game.
He is much closer to 38 than to 37 and his point to create a break chance at 2-2 in the fourth was especially fine. Having retrieved a wide forehand he scampered back across the baseline and hit a blinding crosscourt, backhand pass fully on the run.
You almost had to rub your eyes at the sight of it and hopefully there will be more of the same when he tries to avenge that crushing loss from 11 years ago.