One of the sport's most historic rivalries will resume at the 2014 Australian Open when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer meet for matchup No. 33, this time in the men's semifinals—their first hookup since a 2012 date on the same stage and round, when Nadal defeated Federer.
In a shocking turn of events, the winner will not advance to take on reigning champion Novak Djokovic. Instead, Stanislas Wawrinka awaits the winner after a thrilling upset in the opening semifinal bout.
As Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times illustrates, the showdown is sure to be a classic between two familiar rivals:
Date: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. (local time), 3:30 a.m. ET
Where: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park
Live Stream: WatchESPN
The Journey So Far
To understand the intricacies of the upcoming matchup, one has to know not only the history between Nadal and Federer, but also their recent individual history.
For example, Nadal seems to be the heavy favorite thanks to his 22-10 record against Federer, including a 13-2 mark on clay since the 2005 French Open. It also helps that he has blown through any and all competition this year, including Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov.
But the path of dominance has not come without a cost. Nadal is in the midst of a battle with a hand injury, as Rothenberg captures:
Nadal himself says the injury is a big deal when he serves, per
With the forehand, it's not a big issue. With the serve, a little bit. I feel that with the tape I can lose the racquet when I'm serving. That's my feeling - the racquet can go. That's a terrible feeling for a serve, because then when you have this feeling you are not able to accelerate at the right moment. You lose a little bit the coordination. That's a big deal.
Things have been much simpler for Federer, who now has an 8-1 record to start 2014 as he plays in the Australian Open semifinal for the 11th straight time.
Federer blew past most of the competition before he was able to fend off a feisty Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. Afterward, he told the media he feels 100 percent, per the ATP World Tour's website:
I definitely sensed that today, I am back physically. I'm explosive out there. I can get to balls. I'm not afraid to go for balls. It was a great game on many levels today, not just physically. Also just mentally it was tough. Then I really played some good tennis. I was very happy.
What to Expect
Go ahead and throw past trends and records out the window—a gimpy Nadal was in for a tough task against the 2014 edition of Federer before his injury.
Federer is mostly rejuvenated thanks to his good health, but the addition of coach and six-time Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg has done wonders. The Swiss now believes Edberg has what it takes to help him move past Nadal, per Newbery:
I'm looking forward to speaking to Stefan. He thought he had some good ideas, so I'm looking forward to what he has to say. Severin [Luthi, coach] knows him inside out. I'm looking forward to hearing what the boys have to say.
Federer believes an all-Swiss final is in the cards:
Of course, Nadal is no joke and does not classify as an underdog here.
There is perhaps no other player in the world who could have prevailed with a similar hand injury. Despite Nadal's long list of injuries (including his shaky knees), his body has held up to this point, and to count him out would be a disservice to one of the sport's greatest.
Despite an injury that may prove to be the deciding factor, another classic between two rivals is set to be the high point of the 2014 Australian Open. Casual and hardcore fans of the sport alike would be wise to tune in to the epic showdown.