Picture this: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal meet at net following another classic Grand Slam match - one victor, one vanquished. What comes next? A ceremony, of course, with a trophy for the winner (typically Nadal) and some kind of ignomious commemorative runner-up plate for the losing rival.
But there will be no such post-match event Thursday night at the Australian Open. For just the second time in their eight-year series, the No. 2-ranked Nadal and No. 3-ranked Federer will play a Grand Slam semifinal. With their rivalry in its autumn years, here's how Federer, 30, and Nadal, 25, stack up:
Nadal's indomitable will is his greatest weapon. First he erases Federer's break points (expect plenty such openings for Federer), then he works to break the Swiss champion himself. The Spaniard's 17-9 career edge against Federer - including 7-2 in majors - shows how consistently Nadal has pulled Federer down from his preferred floating-on-air style of play. Edge: Nadal
Aside from occasional back soreness, Federer remains one of the tour's fittest players, even after playing his 1,000th match this week. Nadal never seems to be fully healthy, with last year's left-shoulder problem superseded this month by a right-knee issue. But more often than not, Nadal's intensity is enough to stretch his body's limits. Edge: Federer
Both players will be in full character: Federer as the calculating artist, Nadal as the swaggering fighter. But while Nadal spent last season being thrashed at every turn by top-ranked Novak Djokovic, Federer - though less successful than Nadal - played fluidly all year and was buoyed by a three-title streak to end 2011. His unfettered state of mind might help deliver his first signature win over Nadal since the 2007 Wimbledon final. Edge: Federer