Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic Wimbledon SF tennis Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Djokovic leads Nadal by two sets to one in high quality men's semi-final

Leye Aduloju in Wimbledon 13 Jul 2018
  • Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic continues live from Wimbledon on Saturday, 14 July from 1:00pm local time/ BST
  • Djokovic leads 6-4 3-6 7-5
  • Watch and bet on tennis live from Wimbledon at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic meet for the 52nd time on Friday when they battle for a spot in the Wimbledon final.

Nadal and Djokovic did not begin their hugely anticipated clash until much later in the day following Kevin Anderson's record-breaking six-and-a-half hour victory over John Isner, but when the two former champions did get under the Centre Court roof, it was well worth the wait. The general feeling heading into the match was that Djokovic had been playing at a level higher than he had been at any point during his two-year slump, and the Serbian further buttressed this point with a stunning opening against Nadal, where he showed off a lot of the qualities that took him to the top of the sport, and made him such a nightmare for Nadal. Returning hard and deep. and maintaining immaculate length on his groundstrokes, Djokovic had Nadal in all sorts of early trouble, pushing the great Spaniard to deuce in each of his first three service games before eventually forcing the break in the seventh game. Djokovic went on to serve out the set to love a few games later.

The first few games of the second set followed a similar pattern, until Nadal, the great tactician, started to make in-game adjustments. He varied the direction of his serve, pushed closer to the baseline on return, and most importantly, he brought his forehand down the line into play, going hard into Djokovic's forehand instead of feeding the Serbian's backhand with his favourite cross-court forehand. The move reaped dividends as Nadal took the second set before both men settled into a third seed of exceedingly great quality.

In what was arguably the best single set of this tournament, Nadal and Djokovic showed off what made their rivalry so enthralling over the years, pushing each other to physical and mental boundaries while still retaining their stroke making genius. The drop shot made an appearance late in the set as both men looked to outmanoeuvre the other, but neither could fashion a break, and quite fittingly, the send was decided on a tie break.

Nadal was the better player for much of the set, and much of the tie break, but he could not convert any of three set points, and Djokovic eked out take the breaker when Madal failed to clear the net on a backhand.

Can Djokovic finish this in four? Or will Nadal stretch this to a fifth? Either way, it will be an enthralling conclusion to the contest!

Nadal and Djokovic have played each other more than any other pair in the Open Era, and the two juggernauts are at it again in first Grand Slam meeting since the 2015 French Open. Overall, this is their fourteenth Grand Slam encounter, and a third at Wimbledon. They are tied at 1-1 in Wimbledon meetings, with Nadal winning their first match via a Djokovic retirement in the 2007 semi-final, while the Serbian outlasted his Spanish rival in four sets in the 2011 final.

With Roger Federer out of the way, and a final against Kevin Anderson to come, whoever moves through to the championship match between Nadal and Djokovic will start as the firm favourite for the title, which raises the stakes that little bit higher. That is not to demean the achievements and threats posed by Anderson- who has done terrifically well to get into his first Wimbledon final.

Nadal and Djokovic have been in great form at the All England Club, setting up the prospects of this 52nd meeting being one of the matches of the tournament, and it certainly did not disappoint on Friday.

“It’s always a big challenge facing Novak”, Nadal said. “He’s one of the more complex players that I’ve ever seen in our sport. It’s always a big test. You know that you can't win against him if you don't play very well… But my goal is to try to play very well. I know in the semi-finals of Wimbledon you will not have an easy opponent in front [of you]. You have to accept that if you want to win important things, of course you will face the best players. You need to be ready for it.”

Nadal is enjoying a renaissance at Wimbledon, advancing to the semi-finals for the first time since 2011, having not made a quarter final between 2012 and 2017. Conditions have been a lot more in his favour this year, with the unusually hotter weather drying out the courts, and he has made the most of it, sprinting past Dudi Sela, Mikhail Kukushkin, Alex De Minaur and Jiri Vesely in straight sets to break that quarter final barrier for the first time since 2011.  

The quality of opposition increased exponentially in the last eight, as an in-form Juan Martin del Potro emerged as Nadal’s quarter final opponent. Nadal held the edge in the opening phase of a tight contest, breaking late to take the opening set, and holding a 6-3 lead in the second set tie break, but the Spaniard lost all three set points, the third via a double fault, and del Potro pounced to not only take the second set, but the third as well. Nadal recovered superbly to claim the fourth set, setting up an epic decider. Nadal assumed control with a break in the fifth game, but del Potro refused to roll over, holding five break points across Nadal’s next two service games, but the world number one held off the giant Argentinean to emerge with an epic 7-5 6-7 4-6 6-4 6-4 victory after almost five hours.

Nadal is coming off another dominant spell of clay, winning eleventh titles at Roland Garros, Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and an eighth title in Rome. He opted not to play any pre-Wimbledon warm-up events, pulling out of Queen’s to rest his body, and his body, and mind, and game have held up superbly so far at the All England Club. Nadal is seeking his fifth final in the last seven majors, dating back to that the 2017 Australian Open. Prior to that, he had not made a Grand Slam semi-final since the 2014 French Open, prompting many to write his tennis obituary. The last year-and-a-half has seen a remarkable resurgence from the great Spaniard, and this Wimbledon run is just another addition to a stunning renaissance.

Speaking of renaissance, how about Novak Djokovic’s?

After a turbulent couple of seasons, Djokovic has been operating very close to his best level at Wimbledon. 

He is into a first Grand Slam semi-final since the 2016 US Open, and has generally looked sharper, hungrier, and more focused that he has done at any point in the last couple of seasons. Interestingly, the first signs of problems emerged at Wimbledon in 2016, when Djokovic, holder of all four majors at the time, suffered a shock third round exit to Sam Querrey. What was seen as an initial blip soon escalated into a full-blown slump, which touched its depth when the Serbian missed the entire second half of last season due to an elbow injury. His last tournament before that lengthy spell on the sidelines was at Wimbledon, where he retired from his quarter final against Tomas Berdych with the elbow complaint. 

Djokovic returned to the tour at the 2018 Australian Open, but he underwent minor surgery on his elbow after a fourth-round loss to Hyeon Chung. He made a swift comeback at Indian Wells; but stuttered through early losses in his next few tournaments. It wasn’t until the tail end of the clay court season, Rome specifically that he began to find some form. A semi-final in Rome- his first of the season- was followed by a quarter final at Roland Garros, and despite suffering a shock loss to Marco Cecchinato in Paris, the signs were that he was quickly getting back to top form, and that has been evident on grass. The Serbian warmed-up for Wimbledon with a runner-up finish at Queen’s, and he has backed that up with a strong run at Wimbledon, beating Tennys Sandgren, Horacio Zeballos, Kyle Edmund, Karen Khachanov and Kei Nishikori to reach the semi-finals. It is important to note that this return to form has coincided with his reunion with Marian Vajda, who returned to his box for the start of the clay-court season.

While Djokovic’s Wimbledon progress has been largely plain-sailing, the former world number one has encountered a couple of hiccups, but his response to adversity has been particularly magnificent, the hallmark of the Serbian at his prime. He dropped the opening set in his third-round meeting with Edmund, but responded superbly, taming the Brit and quietening the crowd with some sensational tennis. Against Nishikori in the quarter finals, an irritable Djokovic dropped the second set, and appeared to have lost his way at 2-2 0-40 in the third set, but the Serbian dug in to pull off a massive hold; and he tore apart Nishikori after that passage of play.

“I like the level of tennis that I'm playing right now. I really do”, Djokovic said after the match. “I think with the performances I've had, I deserve to be in the semi-finals. I don't want to stop here. I hope I can get a chance to fight for a trophy.”

Obstructing his path to the final is familiar foe Nadal, whom he takes on for the 52nd time. Djokovic holds the narrow 26-25 advantage on head-to-head.

Djokovic at his best is a difficult match-up for Nadal, whose favourite topspin cross-court forehand crashes head-on into Djokovic’s big strength- the backhand. The Serbian is also able to attack Nadal’s serve, returning the ball hard and deep, and taking control of the points afterwards. Nadal knows what is coming, and if he is going to win this one, he has got to serve at a high percentage, be aggressive and less predictable on the forehand. 

“If you don't play very well, you will not have the chance to win,” Nadal said. “But I hope to be ready to play very well, and let's see what's going on. I know he's playing very well.”

Djokovic has got such a balanced game- his backhand is the better wing, but the forehand is hardly a weakness, and his ability to attack and defend effectively off both sides has caused Nadal plenty of problems in this rivalry.

It’s a blockbuster tie between two of the all-time greats in the sport, who also happen to be playing very well at the same time. Nadal begins as the slight favourite on paper, but Djokovic has got the tools to counter Nadal, and if the Serbian maintains the level he showed in the latter half of his match against Nishikori, and in spells on Friday, particularly in the opening set, I think he has got an excellent chance of taking down the world number one.

Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic is live from Wimbledon on Saturday, 14 July from 1:00pm local time/ BST
Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic is live from Wimbledon on Friday, 13 July from 3:00pm local time/ BST
Watch and bet on the match live from Wimbledon at bet365 > live streaming > Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic  (geo restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)

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Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic Wimbledon SF tennis Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Djokovic leads Nadal by two sets to one in high quality men's semi-final

Nadal and Djokovic go-head-to-head for record-extending 52nd time as they battle for a spot in the Wimbledon final. Who will move on to the final? Read our preview, predictions and stream the match live online.

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