The excitement is palpable. It's almost as if you can taste it.
So close, you tell yourself. So close, don't lose sight of it now, you tell yourself as if it will be you out there on the court.
But no, it's Rafael Nadal who will have all eyes on himself as he takes on Grigor Dimitrov in the semi-final of the Australian Open. More importantly, for a place in the final versus Roger Federer.
Two of this generation's best. Two of the greatest of all time.
There has been no rivalry like the Rafa-Roger rivalry in sport for over a decade. And just when you thought their time was up, they are back with a bang.
|Nadal after beating Federer in the epic Wimbledon final 2008.|
We have been waiting a long time for another instalment of these two gladiators going at each other in their remarkably different styles of tennis, yet creating a complete wholesome diet of shots, passes, lobs, serves, volleys and, most importantly, emotions.
The last time the two met in a Grand Slam was three years ago in the Australian Open semis. A lot has happened since then. But here they are again. Almost.
Federer has beaten three top-ten players, including three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, and two of them have been five-set matches enroute to the final.
Nadal knocked off Milos Raonic, the number three seed, in straight sets in the quarters and only number 15 seed Dimitrov stands between him and Federer. Both have come from long injury lay-offs in 2016, with enough talk around their ages, their fitness and how they just can't compete with the young guns anymore.
As I wait for the second semi-final today, I can't help but look back at the time when I sat in front of the TV, barely out of my teens, glued watching some of their earliest gems.
The golden period of this rivalry started in 2006, when they clashed — both in the final of Roland Garros and Wimbledon. As expected, Rafa won on clay and Roger won on grass. The same was repeated in 2007.
|Mutual admiration is one of the big factors in the longevity of this rivalry.|
But in 2008, Rafa not only won the French trophy beating Roger in the final, but also the Wimbledon crown in the finale of a lifetime in near darkness. I was lucky to be at Henman Hill that special night. The entire crowd broke up in a swell of jubiliation as Rafa fell to the ground winning match point. It didn't matter whom you supported. Both had become immortal.
Dreaming of another Rafa-Roger final, one is also reminded of the super 2009 final right here at Melbourne Park, regarded as one of the best ever. A five-set duel that brought Roger to tears but also revealed their deep respect for each other. A younger Rafa put his arms around Roger to console him. Federer broke a smile.
Mutual admiration is one of the big factors in the longevity of this rivalry. As Federer was asked about facing Nadal in the final after his semi-final win, while he didn't spell it out, it was clear the prospect excites him way more than facing any other opponent. Both are aware of what they mean to each other and fans.
Rafa's record against Roger is brutal, to say the least. In 11 Grand Slam meetings, the Frenchman has won nine times. He's ahead on the head-to-head stands also at 23 to 11. Nadal is, and has always been, Federer's nemesis. But it feels the Swiss master is more at home facing Rafa than anyone else, and vice versa.
Rafa vs Roger is an occasion. Not just a final. This rivalry has made them who they are. It has made millennial fans like me who we are.
But this one, coming six years after their last Grand Slam final meeting, with both of them now over 30, is truly special. A testament of why they are at the pedestal of heroes.
A dream final between Federer and Nadal. It's almost as if it doesn't matter who wins.