LONDON: Novak Djokovic won his battle to be promoted to Centre Court billing for Wednesday’s quarter-finals, forcing eight-time champion Roger Federer off the sport’s most famous arena for the first time in three years.
Three-time champion Djokovic will open the Centre Court programme against Kei Nishikori followed by the two-time winner and world number one Rafael Nadal facing Juan Martin del Potro.
Defending champion Federer, who has played all of his Wimbledon matches since the 2015 semi-finals on Centre Court, will instead open proceedings on Court One against Kevin Anderson.
The other last-eight tie, between Milos Raonic and John Isner, finishes off the Court One schedule.
Djokovic has featured just once on Centre Court — against British home favourite Kyle Edmund in the last 32 — in the opening four rounds.
By contrast, Federer and Nadal have played exclusively on the 15,000-seater Centre Court.
Djokovic had told reporters that he had been hopeful of playing his quarter-final match on Centre Court before telling Serbian media that he “deserved” the honour and intended to lobby the All England Club.
Djokovic has played twice on the 11,000-capacity Court One this year but was shunted off to the 4,000-seater Court Two for his second round clash against Horacio Zeballos.
Three times he has been scheduled last on court, putting him at risk of falling victim to fading light with the burden of having to return the following day.
He managed to finish off Russia’s Karen Khachanov in straight sets in the gathering gloom on Monday.
Twelve months ago, his last-16 match with Adrian Mannarino, also scheduled for Court One, was cancelled despite Centre Court with its retractable roof being available.
Djokovic had to play that fourth round match on the Tuesday and quarter-final on Wednesday, when he was forced to retire against Tomas Berdych with an elbow injury.
– ‘Big war’ –
Djokovic, 2011, 2014 and 2015 champion, will be favourite to see off Nishikori for the 14th time in 16 meetings.
Nishikori is playing in his first Wimbledon quarter-final.
He is also the first Japanese man to reach the quarter-finals since Shuzo Matsuoka in 1995.
“It’s always like a big war for me,” said Nishikori on facing Djokovic.
Federer, who last went to Court One in 2015 for his quarter-final win over Gilles Simon, will be playing in his 16th Wimbledon quarter-final and 53rd at all Grand Slams.
His opponent on Wednesday is eighth-seeded Anderson, the first South African since Wayne Ferreira in 1994 to get to the last eight.
Top seed Federer, 36, has now won 32 consecutive sets at Wimbledon, just two behind his record run from the third round in 2005 to his title triumph in 2006.
He also holds a 4-0 career lead over 2017 US Open runner-up Anderson who has yet to take a set off the Swiss.
Federer hasn’t dropped serve at Wimbledon so far but is wary of the challenge posed by Anderson whose big-serving style is flourishing on courts cooked by last week’s heatwave.
“It’s definitely helped a certain style of player, maybe the big servers,” said 20-time major winner Federer.
– ‘It’s about being smart’ –
Nadal has made the quarter-finals for the first time since finishing runner-up to Djokovic in 2011.
The world number one, chasing an 18th major, will now take on Del Potro boasting a 10-5 career lead.
Del Potro is in his first quarter-final at the tournament since 2013 when he reached the semi-final.
Nadal demolished the giant Argentine for the loss of just seven games in the French Open semi-finals last month.
He has also won both their meetings on grass, including at Wimbledon in 2011.
Many are already anticipating a Sunday final between Federer and Nadal, 10 years after their 2008 epic championship showdown widely regarded as the greatest final ever played.
“Facing Roger again will be something fantastic,” said Nadal.
“But if you ask me if I prefer another one, I say yes. It’s about being smart, no?”
Wednesday’s other quarter-final sees 2016 runner-up Raonic tackle US ninth seed Isner, making his Wimbledon last-eight debut at 33.
It won’t be pretty.
Isner, 33, has not been broken in 74 service games while Raonic has dropped serve just three times in 72 games.
Isner has unleashed a tournament-leading 135 aces while Canadian 13th seed Raonic is in second place, having fired 117.
Raonic has the fastest serve of this year’s Wimbledon at 147 miles (236.5 kilometres) per hour, while Isner is just behind on 144mph (231.7kph).