Tennis legends and archrivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will put their admiration for each other aside on Day 12 at the 2014 Australian Open as they face off in a highly anticipated men's semifinal.
The high-stakes showdown marks the 11th time the two have met at a Grand Slam and the 33rd time overall. World No. 1 Nadal leads the all-time head-to-head with Federer 22-10 but is still chasing the Swiss legend when it comes to overall Grand Slam championships.
A win on Friday, Jan. 24 inside Rod Laver Arena would put Nadal one win away from a 14th career major title, which would tie him with Pete Sampras for second-most all time. Meanwhile, a Federer triumph would pull the four-time Australian Open champion within three sets of extending his record count of Slam crowns to 18.
With the stage set, here's a look at what to watch for in the 2014 Aussie Open's premier matchup.
Date: Friday, January 24, 2014
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. (local time), 3:30 a.m. ET
Where: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Federer's First Serve
A good portion of Fed's success Down Under can be attributed to his serve, which has been dominant through the first five rounds of the tournament.
Federer has won 87 percent or more of his first-serve points in three of his five matches and hasn't won fewer than 78 percent of his first-serve points in a single match at Melbourne Park in 2014.
That's significant and will be something to keep an eye on against Nadal, whose serve has dropped off a bit since the opening rounds. Fortunately for Rafa, he's better suited in other areas and will never be known for a blistering first serve.
Still, this is clearly an area in which Federer will have an advantage in Friday's semifinal.
With two of the best players to ever pick up a tennis racket going head-to-head, you can bet break-point chances will be few and far between in this matchup, thus giving every one added importance.
Although Nadal has been zeroing in on his opportunities to break throughout the fortnight in Melbourne, Federer has struggled to capitalize on his stellar return game at times, squandering a plethora of break points through his first five matches. In his four-set quarterfinal win over Andy Murray, Fed converted on just four of 17 break-point opportunities.
Federer hasn't been shy about his struggles, nor has he lost confidence in his ability to break serve:
#Federer "I'm prob 1 of the guys who misses more brk point opportunities thn others bt I'm kind of used to it. I try to keep my poker face."— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 22, 2014
Watch to see how Federer plays his early break points against Nadal. Earning those chances against Rafa is no easy task, so it goes without saying that the Swiss maestro can ill afford to go 4-of-17 again.
Federer on the Move
With the assistance of coach and former tennis great Stefan Edberg, Federer has come to the net much more often in 2014, winning 49 of 66 points at the net against Murray in the quarterfinals.
The strategy is an obvious one designed to shorten points and reduce the amount of lengthy rallies Fed has to play as he prepares to turn 33 later this year. However, Federer's new approach is legitimate, and given his unique blend of instincts and volleying skills, he's sure to have success against Nadal when he opts to move forward and play more drop shots, as pointed out by renowned tennis coach Nick Bollettieri:
I believe for Federer to win another G/S he will have to do exactly what he did today... attack the net— Nick Bollettieri (@NickBollettieri) January 22, 2014
Don't expect Fed's aggressive approach to catch Rafa off guard, though, as the Spaniard has a tremendous volley of his own and won 32 of 36 net points in his quarterfinal victory over Grigor Dimitrov.
Nadal Forehand vs. Federer Backhand
A part of what has made this rivalry so fun to watch over the past decade is the contrasting styles of Nadal and Federer. Rafa's physical approach has won out in recent meetings, but Federer can't be counted out with the way he's striking the ball at the moment.
Therefore, be sure to keep an eye out for each player's signature shot. For Nadal, it's all about the heavy-topspin lefty forehand, which, when hit to Fed's backhand, has given the right-handed Swiss star trouble in the past.
Although Federer's backhand is one of the best shots in tennis, keeping the ball away from his cracking forehand is ideal.
Whenever a rally breaks out, watch for Nadal to attack Federer's backhand and look to wear him down. It's a strategy that has paid off for Rafa in the past (2008 Wimbledon final comes to mind) and one that will be key in Melbourne.
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