Wimbledon is about tradition. Sometimes that provides a rich sense of history, sometimes it leads to being behind the times, considering women are at a severe disadvantage in comparison to men when it comes to getting matches on the main courts. That duology is also seen in the remaining contenders for the gentlemen’s championship.
Keeping with the pattern in 2015, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, at 28 years old, is the youngest semifinalist at Wimbledon. In fact, he’s the youngest finalist at a major or Masters 1000 event this year. Even more stunningly, players under 28 have a combined two, yes, two, semifinal appearances in the eight significant events of the season thus far.
There are a crop of young teenagers climbing the rankings, but none of them are close to accomplishing what Garbine Muguruza has done on the women’s side, advancing through an impressive row of opposition to make her first major final, on her worst surface no less.
It’s a fascinating topic, though to be fair, also one for another day, as, despite the loss of one such match due to Stan Wawrinka’s loss, tomorrow’s gentlemen’s semifinals still offer an all-time relevant match, regardless of the outcome.
First, the undercard:
Novak Djokovic (1) vs Richard Gasquet (21)
Congratulations to Gasquet on his thrilling upset of the most recent Grand Slam champion. His prize? A match with the undisputed best player on the planet.
Gasquet shocked anyone who has ever watched him play by outlasting Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, improving his record in said round of majors to 3-0, all won in five sets. In his two prior semifinals, he was swept by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and now he’ll complete the trifecta in facing Djokovic.
Grass is Gasquet’s best surface and Djokovic’s worst, and still it’s hard to make a case for the underdog’s chances. They just met at the French Open and it looked like a glorified practice session for Djokovic. Gasquet simply doesn’t have the weapons to pose a threat and his legs could be shot after he sustained frenetic defense against Wawrinka.
It would be a win just for Gasquet to manage to claim a set. A full-on victory would be the biggest shocker in recent memory.
Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets
Roger Federer (2) vs Andy Murray (3)
With all due respect to the Djokovic/Murray semifinal at Roland Garros a month ago, this is the most prestigious Grand Slam semifinal since either the Nadal/Federer match in Australia 18 months ago (a straight set Nadal win) or the Nadal/Djokovic five-setter in Paris two years ago (won by Nadal after he rallied following Djokovic infamously touching the net to lose a point and eventually his serve), which is possibly the greatest match ever played on clay.
After Federer’s loss to Djokovic last year became the first time this century two former Wimbledon champions met in the final, tomorrow’s match follows a pattern of 10 years between former champions meeting in the semifinals (Boris Becker over Andre Agassi in 1995 and Federer over Lleyton Hewitt in 2005).
The rivalry between these two is, other than the Nadal-Murray rivalry, the least prominent among any other Big Four combination, but the style contrast should be entertaining, particularly because it’s on grass and both are now healthy. Federer in 2013 and Murray in 2014 were derailed by back injuries, so the recent head-to-head isn’t relevant (their last meeting was the 6-0, 6-1 drubbing Murray took at the 2014 ATP World Tour Finals).
Federer’s game, especially at almost 34, is built around holding serve. His defensive talents have waned but his serve remains extremely dangerous, particularly because of how skillfully he locates it. Across the net from him will be an all-time great returner, probably only second currently to Djokovic.
Murray will be trying to extend the match and make it about fitness. Federer has fared better at Masters 1000 events than majors in recent years because he can sustain his level over three sets, while struggling over five. The final last year would have been over in four sets if Djokovic hadn’t collapsed and opened the door for Federer to force a deciding set.
Oddly enough, Murray potentially having difficulty in holding his own service games may help him in the long run. A bad shoulder could hamper his already lackluster serving (he combines low percentage first serves with attackable second serves), but it’s hard to break on grass, so that may just end up forcing Federer into playing more points, especially because his return tactic of choice is to slice, which leads to more baseline rallies than riskier returns would.
Neither has been spectacular in the tournament, though their respective competition hasn’t been stiff enough to force them to find an extra gear. Federer has mostly seen offensive players while a few of Murray’s opponents have come off of taxing wins in the prior round.
Prediction: The longer the match goes, the more it shifts in Murray’s favor, and it’s hard to imagine a quick win for either side. Murray in five.