My generation of tennis fans was already incredibly lucky to grow up watching two of the best tennis players of all time, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, in their prime years.
Two up-and-coming stars will hope to upstage their more experienced opponents in the semi-finals of the 2014 Wimbledon Championships on Friday night.
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will be expected by many to contest the men’s championship match on Sunday, but both have to overcome opponents leading the next generation of male tennis.
Djokovic, who can reclaim the world number one ranking by winning his second Wimbledon title, will face off against Grigor Dimitrov in the first semi-final.
Federer will look to extend his unbeaten run against Milos Raonic in the other semi.
Novak Djokovic (1) versus Grigor Dimitrov (11)
Head-to-head: Djokovic 3-1
Last meeting: Djokovic won 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, third round, 2013 French Open
With reigning champion Andy Murray out of the tournament, Novak Djokovic is now in prime position to reach his third Wimbledon final, and his second consecutive.
The top seed was barely troubled in his first few matches, but did find himself down two sets to one against Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals before rallying to win in five sets. He also survived an injury scare against Gilles Simon in the third round to win in straight sets.
That is the ‘Djoker’ we have come to know over the last six years or so. His fightback from an under-pressure position demonstrates that he has the hunger to win a second Wimbledon title and seventh Grand Slam title overall.
At the Australian Open earlier this year, he was dethroned in a five-set, quarter-final thriller by Stanislas Wawrinka, with the final set lasting 16 games, while in Paris last month, he was denied a maiden French Open title by Rafael Nadal after taking the first set.
But if you think he will have it easy in his semi-final against Grigor Dimitrov, you’ve been mistaken.
Dimitrov has, over the last 18 months, shown massive improvement, and when the new rankings are ratified next week, he will officially become Bulgaria’s first male top ten representative.
The 23-year-old arrived at the All England Club on the back of a huge tournament win at Queen’s, and has carried this impressive form into what will be the first Grand Slam semi-final of his career.
In the quarter-finals he was impressive in ending the title defence of Andy Murray in straight sets, thus sentencing the Brit to his worst defeat at the All England Club since 2010. For the first time since 2009, neither Murray or Rafael Nadal will be represented in a Grand Slam final.
To reach his first Grand Slam final, Dimitrov will have to overcome a 1-3 head-to-head record against Djokovic, though this will be their first meeting on grass.
The verdict: Dimitrov has proven himself on grass before; not only did he win Queen’s in the lead-up to Wimbledon, he has also tasted some success at the All England Club, winning the boys’ championship in 2008.
However, the experience and class of Djokovic should be just enough to get the Serb into a third Wimbledon final in the last four years.
Djokovic in four sets.
Roger Federer (4) versus Milos Raonic (8)
Head-to-head: Federer 4-0
Last meeting: Federer won 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, fourth round, 2013 Australian Open
For Roger Federer, the fire in the belly still burns. An 8th Wimbledon title, 18th Grand Slam title and 80th career title beckon after career nemesis Rafael Nadal was knocked out by Australia’s Nick Kyrgios.
Federer’s run to the final four is proof that he is anything but a spent force. This can be credited to his decision to hire Stefan Edberg as his coach prior to this season.
His resurgence this year is there for all to see, claiming two titles, winning in Dubai and successfully retaining his title in Halle. He also reached the finals at Indian Wells and Monte Carlo, losing to Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka respectively.
Entering his quarter-final duel against countryman Wawrinka, the seven-time Wimbledon champion had yet to drop a set, let alone a service game, but was finally exposed when he dropped the first set. Despite that setback, the older Swiss fought back to win in four sets to move through to his ninth Wimbledon semi-final, which will pit him against a ninth different opponent.
Milos Raonic, by putting an end to the stunning run of Australian wildcard Nick Kyrgios in the quarter-finals, has become the first Canadian man in 108 years to reach the semi-finals at SW19.
Like Grigor Dimitrov, Raonic is one of the up-and-comers in men’s tennis, bursting onto the scene when he came out of qualifying to reach the fourth round at the 2011 Australian Open, losing to David Ferrer (who went on to thwart Rafael Nadal’s attempt at holding all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously) in four sets.
If he is to break new ground and reach his first Grand Slam final, Raonic will have to overcome a losing record against Roger Federer, having never defeated him in four attempts. However, Raonic has won a set in three of those four losses, with the only straight-sets defeat coming in their most recent meeting, at the Australian Open last year.
With his Hopman Cup partner Eugenie Bouchard also getting this far in the women’s draw, the potential is there for a breakthrough as far as tennis in Canada is concerned.
The verdict: The lure of breaking yet another Pete Sampras-owned record will be what motivates Roger Federer in this semi-final. However, the serve of Milos Raonic has proven to be deadly so far at these Championships, and Federer will be up to the test.
Roger Federer in four sets.
The stage is set for what should be two entertaining matches of tennis, both pitting experienced campaigners against the next generation.