In the quest for his third Wimbledon title, top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia will face 21st seed Richard Gasquet of France, while second seed Roger Federer of Switzerland will play third seed Andy Murray of Britain in the gentlemen’s singles semifinals on Friday.
Here’s a preview of the action:
Roger Federer vs Andy Murray
The Swiss leads his rivalry with the Scot 12-11. More importantly, however, that lead includes a 4-1 record at Grand Slams, where Murray’s sole win came in five sets in the 2013 Australian Open semifinal.
Federer has won their last three matches since, the most recent a 6-0, 6-1 rout at last year’s World Tour Finals, a win so one-sided that Murray subsequently apologized to fans on Twitter for his performance.
Thursday’s match brings back memories of the pair’s two encounters on Centre Court in 2012. Federer won the first, the final of The Championships, in four sets to lift his seventh Wimbledon title and 17th Major overall, leaving Andy Murray, who was contesting his first final at The All England Club, in tears.
Less than a month later, Murray beat Federer in straight sets in the gold-medal match of the London Olympics to exact some measure of revenge.
Federer has been in fine form thus far. Coming into the tournament on the back of a record eighth title at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, the Swiss held serve for a record 116 service games, a run that began in Halle and was ended by France’s Gilles Simon in the quarter-final. The Swiss has dropped just one set, a 6-7(5) tiebreak to big-serving Sam Groth of Australia.
Coming in, Murray won his own grass-court warm-up, at Queen’s Club. The Scot has dropped two sets thus far, one a third-set lapse against Italy’s Andreas Seppi and the other to 6’11” Ivo Karlovic of Croatia. Post-marriage, Murray has been a transformed player. He won his first two titles on clay in May, including a dominant win over Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Open final, and has lost just once, to Djokovic in the semi-finals of the French Open.
Federer’s serve will be crucial. He will need to keep the first serve percentage high. More variety on second serves, such as the high-bouncing kick serve and the slice serve out wide, will help keep a returner of Murray’s calibre off-balance and always guessing. The Swiss is the more natural aggressor of the two and will look to come to the net as much as possible to ask questions of the Scot’s passing shots. It will be in the interests of the 33-year-old to keep points short.
Murray, on his part, also needs to serve well. He will look to step in on the return on second serves and cannot afford to be defensive against Federer. Aggression with the forehand served Murray well in that gold-medal match and he must continue with the same. This match promises to be a competitive, high-quality affair.
Novak Djokovic vs Richard Gasquet
The Serb’s record against the Frenchman is a lopsided 11-1. Gasquet’s sole win against Djokovic came in 2007, the same year he last made the Wimbledon semi-finals. The last time the two played, in the fourth round at the French Open less than two months ago, Djokovic won 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.
Djokovic is a nightmare match-up for Gasquet. He can use his consistent groundstrokes, especially his backhand, to stretch the Frenchman on both sides of the court until he draws an error or gets the chance to go for a winner. He can also use his backhand to try and break down Gasquet’s single-handed backhanded.
Djokovic will face a player with a one-handed backhand for the third straight time in the semi-final or final of a Grand Slam, but the Frenchman’s single-hander is not as powerful or heavy as Stan Wawrinka’s. Gasquet can, however, play that shot down the line to put some pressure on Djokovic and follow it up to the net, where he won 35 of 56 points in his quarter-final against Wawrinka.
Thanks to his elegant, easy-on-the-eyes backhand, Gasquet’s serve is an often overlooked, hugely underrated aspect of his game. That serve served him well against Wawrinka, especially in the fifth set, and will need to work again to help him win some easy points against the returning of the Serb, who will look to punish the second serve.
It's going to take something extraordinary from Gasquet to win this one.