Between them, they boast nine Wimbledon titles. And for a 10-year span, from 2003 to 2012, one or the other reached the final of the grass-court classic.
But with Federer’s majesty waning at age 31, and Nadal’s chronic tendinitis in his knees demanding periodic breaks from competition, the rivalry between the Swiss master and Spanish slugger has been supplanted.
The seismic shift atop the sport occurred before this edition of Wimbledon got underway two weeks ago. So for all the hand-wringing over the flurry of upsets and withdrawals that marred the tournament’s early stages, it is fitting and just that Sunday’s men’s final will pit the current No. 1, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, against second-ranked Andy Murray of Scotland — players who had toiled in the imposing shadows cast by Federer and Nadal for years.
Sunday’s Centre Court clash will mark the third Grand Slam final between the two since September.
Djokovic claimed the spoils at the Australian Open, prevailing in four sets. Murray gutted out a five-set victory to claim the first major title of his career at the 2012 U.S. Open.
Their familiarity extends well beyond that, however.
Both 26, the Serb and Scot have played each other countless times since they were rangy 11-year-olds, full of promise on the European junior circuit.
Djokovic can’t recall too many details of that first clash — other than a distinct vision of Murray’s shock of curly hair and the fact that he lost soundly and swiftly.
“I remember I had a short visit on the tennis court,” Djokovic said Saturday, looking remarkably rested and relaxed despite being less than 24 hours removed from the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history, at 4 hours 43 minutes.
Widely regarded as the fittest player on tour both physically and mentally, Djokovic leads their rivalry as pros, 11-7. He insisted Saturday that no amount of fatigue would hamper his pursuit of a seventh major title.
“It’s a mental fight in the end, but it’s not the first time I’ve been in this position,” said Djokovic, Wimbledon’s 2011 champion. “I’m ready to go all the way. As long as it takes for me to play, to give it all, I’m ready to go out on the court and give everything I have.”
The two have met on grass only once, with Murray beating Djokovic, 7-5, 7-5, at the semifinal stage of the 2012 Olympics, competed here at the All England club, en route to his gold-medal triumph over Federer.
Murray, whose four-set semifinal was less arduous, should be the more rested man in Sunday’s matchup of strong servers, terrific returners and exceptional movers. But how he’ll shoulder the weight of British expectations may decide the match. No British man has won Wimbledon’s singles titles since 1936, when Fred Perry claimed the last of his three championships.
Ever since Murray set foot on these grounds, he has been hailed as Britain’s next great hope of snapping a drought that now extends 77 years. The Scot reached the final last year, but fell to Federer in four sets.
And just when it seemed there were no angles to the topic that hadn’t been mined to mind-numbing extent, a journalist offered a fresh twist Friday, asking Murray what he thought the late Perry might say to him, if he came back to life just now.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Murray replied: “Why are you not wearing my kit?” (“Kit” being a British expression for clothes.)
Wimbledon notes: Americans Bob and Mike Bryan became the first duo in the Open era to hold all four Grand Slam doubles titles at the same time with Saturday’s victory in Wimbledon’s men’s doubles final. The top-seeded twins, 35, defeated Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
The Bryans’ historic run started after they won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, and they have reveled in every step along the way.
“I think that’s the reason why we’ve been playing so well, is because we have everything,” explained Bob. “Everything now feels like a bonus. It just feels like we’re adding nuts and whipped cream and cherries to our great career. We said that a few years ago: If we retire today, we feel like we’ve done it all. Let’s go have some fun and add to whatever this is.”
Earlier Saturday, 17-year-old Taylor Townsend of Chicago was edged for Wimbledon’s junior girls’ title by top-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.