By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) - A dream semi-final pitching two of the game's greatest ever players against each other is likely to be a tasty warm-up act for many of the fans in Centre Court on Friday as home favorite Andy Murray bids to reach a maiden Wimbledon final.
World number one Novak Djokovic takes on 16-times grand slam champion Roger Federer in a mouth-watering encounter that would have graced any court on any occasion.
The mention of both names together is usually enough to have tennis fans salivating in Pavlovian anticipation.
As it is, both players could play second fiddle to a Briton with no grand slam titles, who both frustrates and enthuses the home support in equal measure, as he faces Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
After Rafa Nadal's shock demise in the second round to rocket-launching Czech Lukas Rosol, Murray would be forgiven for thinking he will never have a better opportunity to go beyond the semis - the stage where he has fallen in his last three attempts.
For Djokovic and Federer it would be understandable for them to have a sense of relief that whoever prevails from their battle will not have to face the Mallorcan with 11 slams in a Centre Court showdown on Sunday.
The Serb will be going into Friday's tussle with the psychological edge as he has swatted aside the Swiss magician in six of their last seven encounters, the most recent being at the French Open four weeks ago.
Their meeting at the U.S. Open last year, when Federer led by two sets before Djokovic stormed back to win in five, is also likely to be fresh in his memory.
"I don't feel that any match is over against a top player like Novak is," Federer said after ruthlessly dispatching Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets in his quarter-final.
"With his ability of his shot‑making, you know the match is never over until the umpire calls the score."
Among the unknowns, however, is how these two will match up on grass and on a court where six-times champion Federer ruled the roost for so many years.
There have been 26 meetings between the two, with Federer leading 14-12 overall, but Wimbledon's manicured lawns will play host to the spectacle for the first time.
"He uses the grass court better because of that slice," Djokovic said after his own quarter-final romp against Florian Mayer.
"You know, he has a really smart game for this surface.
"But I improved playing on grass in last couple of years. I mean, I won the title here last year, got to another semi-final this year, so I'm feeling good about this surface, about myself on the court.
"I really have nothing to lose."
Having nothing to lose is unlikely to be a feeling experienced by Andy Murray before his semi-final against Tsonga.
With Nadal out of the way, the Briton knows that if he plays his best tennis he should prevail against a man ranked two places below him.
There is the weight of a nation's expectations on his shoulders, however, as he battles to become the first Briton to win the men's title since Fred Perry in 1936 and the first to reach the final since Bunny Austin two years later.
"There's obviously pressure there," Murray said. "I think if you think too much about it and you read the newspapers and you watch the stuff on TV that's said about you, I think it would become far too much.
"But if you shield yourself from it all and just get into your own little bubble, only listen to the people that are around you, then it's something you can deal with."
Murray has faced the Frenchman six times and has lost only once, at the Australian Open in 2008. The Briton has prevailed in both their two meetings on grass.
Their match-ups have been far from one-sided, though, with Murray conceding the first set to Tsonga when they met in the quarters at Wimbledon in 2010, while the Frenchman had matchpoint in the final of the Queen's tournament the following year.
"It's of course an advantage to play at home but it's still tennis and you never know what will happen on court," Tsonga said after coming through his quarter-final against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber.
"Andy's one of the players I don't like to play because he's returning really well and he can play some really good passing shots.
"He's really quick. He's all the time on the ball, so it's tough for me."
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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