Preview: Though Rafael Nadal's early exit has prevented a semifinal lineup featuring a full quota of the top four men in the world, there remain two mouthwatering clashes in store.
After meeting 26 times, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will take their great rivalry to Wimbledon for the first time on Friday. While Federer has made Centre Court his own for much of the past decade, with six titles, Djokovic is the defending champion and it will take some effort to dethrone the world No. 1.
Recent signs certainly point toward a Djokovic victory. Federer may still enjoy the edge in contests between the pair at 14-12, but it is Djokovic who has won six of the last seven. Despite both men spending an almost equal amount of time on court during this year's Championships, It is the Serbian that has looked the more impressive in making his way through to the last four.
For Djokovic, just one set has been dropped along the way, whereas Federer had to escape a two-sets-to-love hole against Julien Benneteau and also looked shaky in his fourth round with Xavier Malisse.
There is massive incentive, however, for the Swiss master to pull out all the stops to get the victory. Should Federer go on and claim the title on Sunday then not only will he equal Pete Sampras' record of seven titles at SW19 but he will also return to the top of the ATP rankings. The 30 year old is currently one week short of Sampras's record 286 weeks at No. 1.
Key to the match will be Federer's ability to impose himself on Djokovic with his two weapons: his serve and forehand. He must also avoid getting involved in backhand exchanges, in which Djokovic is sure to have the edge. For that reason the key shot could be Federer's backhand down the line.
Incredibly for much of those in attendance on Centre Court, Federer's meeting with Djokovic will serve as a mere appetizer to Andy Murray's contest with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The pressure on Murray is sky high to become the first Briton since 1938 to make the final at Wimbledon. The removal of Nadal from his path means that anything less than that achievement will be considered a failure by a demanding British media and public.
The signs are good that the Scot can come good. After a couple of hiccups early on, Murray looks to have hit form at just the right time. The fourth seed looked comfortable in disposing of the threat posed by Marin Cilic in straight sets before a monumental tussle with world No. 5 David Ferrer. With the Spaniard serving for a two-set lead, Murray was staring down the barrel, but performed exceptionally to pull out the set in the tiebreak and also edge the next two for a memorable win.
Tsonga deserves plenty of respect after making it through to his second consecutive Wimbledon semifinal. Yet, the matchup with the Frenchman is one that appeals to Murray. With Tsonga one of the most offensively flamboyant players on tour, Murray can afford the comfort of relying on his counterpunching skills from the back of the court. That Murray enjoys a 5-1 record against Tsonga speaks volumes for his how the two players' games matchup.
There is always the danger that Tsonga could have a phenomenal day where he starts finding the lines with winners from all over the court, but it is hard to see that being maintained over a best-of-five-set match. If Murray can avoid the tension that has often afflicted him in the biggest matches then expect an eruption from the Centre Court come Friday evening.