WIMBLEDON, England — All these years later, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will meet again at Wimbledon for the 40th installment of their terrific tennis rivalry — and first at the All England Club since their memorable 2008 final.
"Such a long time," Nadal said.
Each overcame a tough opening set Wednesday to move on to the men's singles semifinal showdown everyone has been thinking about since the tournament draw for the grass-court major.
A 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 8 seed Kei Nishikori gave second-seeded Federer his 100th match win at the All England Club, making him the first man to reach that total at any Grand Slam tournament. Not long after that ended on Centre Court, third-seeded Nadal finished off No. 65 Sam Querrey at No. 1 Court, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.
Friday's other semifinal will draw far less attention: No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the reigning champion, against No. 23 Roberto Bautista Agut, who has never before been this far at a major. Djokovic beat 21st-seeded David Goffin 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 on Wednesday, when Bautista Agut topped No. 26 Guido Pella 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Looking ahead to what comes next for himself, Federer said: "Obviously, I know people always hype it up."
Well, why shouldn't they? These are, after all, two of the greatest players in the sport's long history, winners of more Grand Slam titles than any other men. Of Federer's 20, a record eight came at Wimbledon. Of Nadal's 18, 12 came at the French Open, where he routed Federer in the semifinals last month.
That gave Nadal a 24-15 career edge head-to-head, including 10-3 at the Slams, but it was staged on the red clay ruled by Nadal. This one is on Federer's turf.
This is their fourth matchup at Wimbledon but their first outside of a final. Federer beat Nadal for the 2006 and '07 titles, but Nadal won the '08 championship in a 9-7 fifth set as dusk descended. Nadal's other Wimbledon title came in 2010 against Tomas Berdych, who had upset Federer in the quarterfinals.
"Well, we have a lot of information on Rafa, and so does he about us," Federer said. "So you can either dive into tactics and all that stuff like mad for two days, or you're just going to say: 'You know what? It's grass-court tennis, and I'm going to come out there and play attacking tennis.' And if he can defend that, that's too good. And if he can't, well, then, that's good for me."
This is the 13th time the Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic — who has 15 Grand Slam titles, four of them at Wimbledon — are in the semifinals at the same major. On 11 of the previous occasions, one of them won the title.
There were some shaky moments for each Wednesday.
"The beginning," Federer said, "was brutal."
Nishikori jumped out to an early edge by breaking in the very first game, enough to give him that set. Federer quickly turned things around in the second, conjuring up whatever he wanted, exactly when he wanted it.
His approach shots were beyond reproach. His volleys vibrant. His returns were timed so well, struck so violently that one knocked the net-rushing Nishikori's racket plumb out of his hands.
And Federer's serve? Sure, he faced break points, but he never allowed the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to convert another.
"Overall, I'm just very happy how I'm hitting the ball," Federer said. "Feel good off the baseline, too, which is clearly going to be important, maybe, for the next match."
Yeah, maybe. Nadal, of course, is still a ball-retrieving, shot-whipping machine at the back of the court, though he had some trouble closing out the first set against Querrey, an American who was trying to reach his second Wimbledon semifinal.
Nadal wasted three set points at 5-3, then another before getting broken when serving for it at 5-4. Again serving for that set at 6-5, he erased a trio of break points for Querrey before holding — and finally was on his way.
Djokovic used a 10-game run to transform what was shaping up as an even, entertaining quarterfinal into a romp. Down an early break, he grabbed control midway through the opening set and never let go.
"I felt," Djokovic said, "like I managed to dismantle his game."