By HOWARD FENDRICH
The Associated Press
WIMBLEDON, England — If Roger Federer’s going to win a record ninth championship at Wimbledon, he’ll need to follow up a victory over Rafael Nadal with one over defending champion Novak Djokovic.
Federer has played both at the same Grand Slam tournament only once, at the 2011 French Open: He beat Djokovic in the semifinals, but lost to Nadal in the final.
As is the case with Nadal, Federer has faced Djokovic so many times over the years that each knows the other’s game so well. And as is the case with Nadal, Djokovic has managed to get the better of Federer head-to-head so far.
“It’s the same like going into a Rafa match: I think the moment you’ve played somebody, probably, more than 15 times — especially in recent years, also, a few times — there’s not that much more left out there. Especially, you know where the players go when it really matters,” the No. 2-seeded Federer said, looking ahead to Sunday’s final, his 12th at the All England Club.
“How much can you still surprise somebody?”
This will be the 48th time Federer and Djokovic play against each other as pros, which is eight more than Federer vs. Nadal has happened.
It’s also the 16th showdown between Federer and Djokovic at a Grand Slam tournament, breaking a tie with Djokovic vs. Nadal for the most by a pair of men in the Open era, which began in 1968.
Djokovic leads 25-22 overall, 9-6 at the majors, 3-1 in Grand Slam finals and 2-1 at Wimbledon.
Plus, Djokovic has won their four most recent showdowns.
“At the end of the day, it comes very much down to who’s better on the day, who’s in a better mental place, who’s got more energy left,” Federer said, “who’s tougher when it really comes to the crunch.”
He is 8-1 in past finals at the grass-court tournament he’s ruled the way no other man has. Two of those defeats were in 2014 and 2015 against Djokovic; the other came in 2008 against Nadal.
Federer and Nadal hadn’t played since then at Wimbledon until their semifinal Friday.
This time, Federer came through, although he needed five match points to secure his 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
“He is always able to do the most difficult things easy,” Nadal said about his longtime rival. “He’s able to move inside the court quicker than (anyone). He puts pressure on the opponent all the time, because he has the ability to take the ball earlier than (anyone) else. That’s probably the most difficult thing to make happen, and he is able to do it so well.”
Federer did other things well against Nadal, including dulling his improved serve with superb returning.
Still, it’ll take that and more to get past the No. 1-seeded Djokovic, who is up to his usual body-bending, grind-it-out excellence at the baseline, even winning a 45-stroke point while eliminating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals.
For Djokovic, this is his sixth Wimbledon final as he chases what would be a fifth trophy.
“Of course, I’m going to be excited and nervous and everything that you can think of,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to control that in some way and be able to portray my best tennis.”
There is history at stake whenever members of the Big Three find themselves in a Grand Slam final, which happens with remarkable frequency.
Whoever comes out on top Sunday, the 2019 Wimbledon title will be the 11th Slam in a row won by Federer, Djokovic or Nadal — and the 54th in the past 65.
Perhaps Federer, who turns 38 on Aug. 8, will extend his lead on the career list to a men’s-record 21 championships, which would leave him three ahead of Nadal, who is 33 years old, and six ahead of Djokovic, who is 32.
Or maybe Djokovic will push his total to 16, just two behind Nadal and four away from Federer.
“I am looking to make history in this sport,” Djokovic said. “Of course, I would love to have a shot at as many Grand Slam titles as possible. Those are probably the top goals and ambitions.”