Federer and Djokovic face young guns
ROGER Federer and Novak Djokovic face young and restless Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov for places in the Wimbledon final today, as men's tennis reaches a potentially game-changing moment.
In the space of 24 hours at the All England Club, the big four of the game were reduced to the big two, following the shock exits of Rafael Nadal and defending champion Andy Murray.
Suddenly, Dimitrov and Raonic have the opportunity to tip the balance in favour of the next generation by breaking down the door which has been frustratingly ajar for a decade.
But the odds are stacked against them.
Federer, 32, is a seven-time Wimbledon champion, with a record 17 majors, and will be playing in his 35th Grand Slam semi-final and ninth at the All England Club.
Djokovic's 2011 Wimbledon title was just one of his six majors and the 27-year-old will be playing in his 23rd last-four at a Grand Slam and fifth in a row in London.
Dimitrov and Raonic, both 23, score nought on all of the above.
Despite his desire to lift what would be a record eighth title, Federer insists he is happy to see a new breed coming through, even if they are already edging towards their mid-20s.
"It's just hard breaking through. The points, you fetch them from semis on, not really quarters anymore like it used to be," he said.
"So it's hard, I think, for a youngster to win or be consistent over three, four, five matches in a row, where the big points are."
Federer will be the sentimental favourite today against eighth-seeded Raonic. The latter's quarter-final win over Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios - the 19-year-old shock conqueror of Nadal, 28 - was brutally effective, but far from pretty.
Many watching saw the performance - which produced 39 aces, 73 winners and just 20 points conceded off serve - as a throwback to when grass-court tennis was a one-shot shoot-out.
"Well, he's got a big serve. Clearly, that's what is most visible when you see him play," conceded Federer.
Raonic insists his poor record against Federer will not be a factor when he becomes the first Canadian man since Robert Powell in 1908 to play in a Wimbledon semi-final.
"He's got the better of me all four times. But I haven't played him in more than a year and a bit, so I think I'm a different player," he said.
Top-seeded Djokovic was runner-up to Murray 12 months ago, and he takes a 3-1 lead over 11th-seeded Dimitrov into their match.
Dimitrov reached his first Grand Slam semi-final by defeating Murray, 27, in straight sets on Wednesday.
Transformed since hiring Australian coach Roger Rasheed, Dimitrov is also getting himself known for his tennis rather than just being the boyfriend of Maria Sharapova.
And her advice at this crucial moment?
"She said: 'Win it.' What can I say? I think that's a good tip!" he said.