Stan Wawrinka may have dramatically fallen by the wayside to prevent the top four seeds in the men’s draw making up the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time in 20 years, but Friday’s lineup at the All England Club is still a tantalizing one. Wawrinka’s conqueror in an epic fifth set, Richard Gasquet, will take to the Center Court to take on world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first of the semifinals, before the second and third seeds, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, continue their storied rivalry.
It promises to be quite the challenge for the outsider of the final four. Gasquet has often had his mental resolve questioned during his career, but he came on stronger at the crucial moments to beat Wawrinka 11-9 in the fifth set and secure a second Wimbledon semifinal appearance, eight years after his first.
But the 21st seed will have had little time to enjoy that win before preparing for a match with a man he has lost to on nine straight occasions. During that time Gasquet has struggled just to make sets competitive, never mind matches, with Djokovic leading the set count 20-1. It was just over a month ago that they last met at the French Open, when Gasquet won just six games. And the Frenchman has stressed that simply believing he can win will be key to his hopes.
“[I need] to play a big game, try to be very aggressive. I played him in Paris. I tried to control the game. Of course, he was playing much better than me. I couldn't do many games in that match. I don't remember exactly the score, but it was tough.
“So I want to enjoy it, to play a better match than I did in Paris. It's important for me to think I can win this match. That's the most important. To go on the court and think you can win, it's something I need to do on my mental part, to be there to win.”
Djokovic had his own five-set marathon in the last 16, when coming back from two sets down to beat Kevin Anderson. But he had a much smoother time in the quarterfinals, getting past U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic in straight sets. And the defending champion will now be the overwhelming favorite to secure a third consecutive final appearance.
On paper, at least, the second semifinal is much tougher to call. Both Federer and Murray have impressed on their way through to a semifinal meeting that brings memories flooding back of the summer of 2012. It was in the Wimbledon final that year that Federer beat Murray to claim his 17th and still most recent Grand Slam title, leaving Murray in tears as he continued his wait for his first. Back on Centre Court a few weeks later, though, Murray turned the tables on Federer in the final of the Olympics to start a golden year that culminated in ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s singles champion at Wimbledon.
It has been a tough time for Murray since then, having undergone back surgery and being forced into a change of coach. But over the past two weeks, the Scot has reinforced the notion that he is now playing perhaps his best ever tennis, dropping just two sets en route to the final four.
Yet he now takes on a player who has lost just a single set thus far in this year’s Championships, and who only dropped serve for the first time in the second set of a comfortable quarter final victory over Gilles Simon. Federer’s record in Wimbledon semifinals is an intimidating one, too, winning all nine of his previous matches at this stage of the historic grass-court event, going on to take a record-equaling seven titles. And the 33-year-old is optimistic that his routine route through to the semifinals will enable him to play his best on the big occasion.
“I'm very happy to be in the semis again,” he said. “The road is long getting here. But still I feel like I'm fresh and I've got energy left in the tank for hopefully a great match with Andy and then we'll see. But I'm looking forward to it. This is obviously now crunch time when you want to show if your game's really up to par.”
Match times: Djokovic and Gasquet will get underway at 8 a.m. EDT, with Murray and Federer to follow the conclusion of the opening match.
TV channel: ESPN