Roger Federer pushed by Kei Nishikori before completing Wimbledon century

• Eight-time champion faces Rafael Nadal in semi-finals
• Four-set win over Nishikori was his 100th at Wimbledon

If Roger Federer is to win Wimbledon for the ninth time he might have to reach deeper into his past than he did in beating Kei Nishikori over four sets in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

This was his 100th victory at Wimbledon – and nobody has won that many matches at one tournament. It is as if he cannot help breaking records, rewriting all that has gone before him and pushing the boundaries further away from those who are to follow.

Certainly this was a comfortable win in the end – 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 – if not as spectacular as many here since he won his first title in 2003. But, if he is to further confound the doubters and lift another Wimbledon title, his 101st win at the All England Club will have to be his 16th against Rafael Nadal when they meet in the semi-finals on Friday in their 40th contest. That will be an altogether different proposition.

“We have a lot of information on Rafa and so does he on us,” Federer said. “You can dive into all that stuff or say this is grasscourt tennis and just attack. It was a joy to play against Rafa at Roland Garros [where Nadal won their semi-final in straight sets on his favoured clay]. I go about it like every other match.”

Nadal, who has won here twice (including their memorable 2008 final), has fallen in love with the Wimbledon grass again after years of poor results. He came agonisingly close to defeating Novak Djokovic in the semi‑finals last year, and has dropped only one set this year. On Wednesday, he beat Sam Querrey 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

Rafael Nadal will face Roger Federer in the semi-final, with the winner likely to face Novak Djokovic in the final.
Rafael Nadal will face Roger Federer in the semi-final, with the winner likely to face Novak Djokovic in the final. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Whoever wins that semi-final will almost certainly face Djokovic, who was awesome again in thrashing poor David Goffin in three quick sets earlier in the day. Barring the Serb’s way to the final is the 23rd seed, Roberto Bautista Agut, who has beaten him twice this year, on hardcourts in Miami and Doha, so he is dangerous. But Djokovic will start a prohibitive favourite in that match.

So here they are again, the Big Three, gathered around the biggest prize in the game. In the fourth round, they gave up just 19 games between them; on Wednesday, the total rose to 30. But they are peerless. For all the talk that they were about to bow to youth at these championships they continue to set the standard, a remarkable dominance.

Nevertheless, only once have they all gone into the Wimbledon semi‑finals together, in 2007, when Nadal defeated Djokovic and then lost against Federer in the final. Federer is the oldest at 37 and there were fleeting moments at the beginning of his match when he looked it.

When Nishikori – appearing in his fifth grand slam quarter‑final in succession – nailed the first set after 40 minutes the hush in the seats told the story: their hero was struggling.

Of course, they kept the faith and the backlash in the second set was swift – for the loss of a single game in 22 minutes – but the grind resumed before Federer got it done in two hours and 36 minutes.

“It was difficult,” Federer admitted courtside. “The beginning was brutal. Kei came out and was smashing winners; he was the better player. So it was important to get the lead and protect it, then start a normal match at one set all. I served really good and protected that until the very end.”

As for his century of Wimbledon victories, he said: “You’re not thinking hundred, hundred. A fan told me. It was a sweet way to do it. The crowd were so nice.”

They are never less than nice. Their love for Federer is boundless. And he appreciates it more than people realise. In an interesting aside later, the Swiss was asked how much time he spends alone.

“Not much,” Federer said, pausing. “I don’t like being alone. I mean, I’m not afraid of being alone. I like being surrounded by my friends, family. It’s obviously the best. I like talking to people. Now, with four kids anyway, there is a lot of that, which is perfect for me in my life because I’m very happy.”


Kevin Mitchell at Wimbledon

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