Can underdog Roger Federer upset iron man Novak Djokovic in Wimbledon semi-final?

In-form Swiss must defeat World No 1 to reach final as pair meet for first time on surface

Wimbledon

Roger Federer has won a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles, including six at the All England Club, but when he faces Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals this afternoon the 30-year-old Swiss will be in the unaccustomed position of underdog.

There was a time when it would have been unthinkable for the former world No 1 to be second-favourite going into any match on grass, but Djokovic's form over the last 18 months, coupled with Federer's failure to win a Grand Slam title for two and a half years, have turned the tables. Djokovic, the defending champion here, has won four of the last six Grand Slam tournaments, while Federer has reached only one final – when he lost to Rafael Nadal at last year's French Open – in his last nine appearances at the majors.

The two men are familiar foes. Remarkably, Federer and Djokovic have been in the same half of the draw in 15 of the last 17 Grand Slam events. They have played each other 26 times, yet this will be their first meeting on grass.

Halle in Germany is the only grass-court tournament other than Wimbledon that Federer has played in recent years and he missed it on the only occasion when Djokovic played there, winning the title in 2009. Because of their rankings, Federer and Djokovic only meet these days in semi-finals or finals (their last 22 meetings have all been in semi-finals or finals). This is the first year when both men have reached the last four here.

While Federer has been the ultimate grass-court player for most of the last decade, Djokovic has grown to love the surface. The slowing-down of the courts in recent years plays into the hands of players like Djokovic who are at their most comfortable rallying from the baseline, though the Serb is much more confident at the net than he was two years ago.

Djokovic admits that in his early years Federer and Rafael Nadal had a psychological hold over him, but that has changed in the last year and a half. Djokovic has won six of his last seven meetings with Federer – his only defeat came in the semi-finals at last year's French Open when the Swiss ended the Serb's 43-match winning run – and won in straight sets in their most recent encounter, last month in the semi-finals at Roland Garros.

Federer remains as formidable as ever in the early rounds of Grand Slam tournaments – he has reached the quarter-finals or better of every event since the 2004 French Open – but in the last two years he has fallen short at the latter stages.

Djokovic has become the game's iron man. Physically, he has proved himself up to every challenge, as when beating Andy Murray and Nadal in successive matches lasting nearly five and six hours to win the Australian Open this year. Mentally, nobody plays the big points better. He saved four match points before beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2012 French Open and in the US Open semi-finals of 2010 and 2011 he beat Federer in five sets after saving two match points.

Federer, who is aiming to become the first man to reach eight Wimbledon finals and would reclaim the world No 1 ranking by winning the title, believes Djokovic's consistency has made the difference.

"He used to maybe have a match where he wouldn't play so well at times or lose early in a tournament for some reason," Federer said. "He also had some health issues early on with his breathing, I thought. Little things like that obviously play a role in the everyday grind on tour. I think he's been able to put a lot of these things aside and he seems a very complete and happy player out there right now."

Federer is pleased with his own form. "I've been playing well for a year now," he said. "I'm happy that going ahead into the semis I'm not tired, I'm not injured, I'm not anything. I'm fresh and ready to go. That's how I want to feel before a semi-final. It's been a better tournament for me than in Paris, where I struggled all the way through. Here I think I've had some great matches."

Djokovic described Federer as "probably the best player in history" and added: "Most of our matches that we play against each other are very close. Very few points decide the winner."

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific