Blisters, racquet, Fedberg: three new elements, of varying relevance, at play in the 33rd career meeting between Roger Federer and his great nemesis, Rafael Nadal. The raw, weeping hand is Rafa's; the bigger Wilson frame and addition of Stefan Edberg recent for Roger, who, perhaps just as importantly, is also moving more like the Roger of old.
All of which might, perhaps, make Friday night's instalment in the long and lopsided rivalry more uncertain than last year's four, won by Nadal, and the eight played previously at grand slams other than Wimbledon, all of them swept by the Spaniard. Federer's last success in a major was in 2007. Overall, he trails 10-22.
Nadal, indeed, spent only 20 words on the subject in his post-quarter-final press conference: ''We played a lot of times. You don't need to talk about the match. I need to play my best.''
Aus Open Day 12: Federer, Nadal semi-final showdown
Tennis writers Greg Baum and Linda Pearce preview Day 12 of the Australian Open with four-time champion Roger Federer up against old foe Rafael Nadal in the second men's semi-final.PT3M47S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-31b1x 620 349 January 23, 2014
Yet the fact that he did not quite manage that in his four-set quarter-final against the artist formerly known as Baby Fed, Grigor Dimitrov, who was one forehand blunder away from taking a two-sets-to-one lead, can also give Federer some heart, according to the Bulgarian's coach, Australian Roger Rasheed.
''Roger's a student of the game, and he would have watched that match, as well, just to see a little bit of what Grigor was doing, and see whether there was anything he was doing that he might be able to pick up on,'' said Rasheed, whose latest client shares several stylistic similarities with Federer, including the type of single-handed backhand that Nadal has habitually overwhelmed with his viciously jumping topspin.
''It's more going to be how often Roger can execute his game, and keep it in his pathway, instead of Rafa having control. But Roger comes in extremely confident. I think it's a little bit of Stefan in there in terms of looking to come in at the right times, and make legitimate movements forward, which I've really liked.
'You've got to be good when you come to the net against Rafa' said the four-time Australian Open champion, Roger Federer. Photo: Pat Scala
''The court definitely is a little more favourable for him this year as well, in combination with the balls, because you get a contribution from the court, it's sliding through.
''Rafa's a different kettle of fish, though; it's a different type of ball that comes from Rafa, and the guy's a bull, and he loves the competition. And there'll be a lot of psychology in play, because they've had so many meetings, and the way those matches have been played, the way Rafa tries to direct traffic into one area of the court, he'll be trying to play that type of mind game, as well. So we've almost got to start a fresh chapter here, I think.''
Please do, would be Federer's ideal, because many of the old ones have made for depressing reading. The 32-year-old won a single set in four attempts in 2013, and has lost both times on Rod Laver Arena - the teary five-set final in 2009, and four-set semi in 2012.
But his upsized choice of weapon seems to have made a difference after a mixed debut in Brisbane, and the presence of childhood hero Stefan Edberg has led to more net forays: 66 (for 49 points won) against Murray, for example, even if the success rate on break points (4/17) was a humbler statistic he cannot afford to repeat.
''You've got to be good when you come to the net against Rafa, though,'' cautions former Australian serve-volleyer John Fitzgerald. ''That's the dilemma, do you stay back and play on his terms, or do you come in with your net game against a guy that just hits hand grenades at you?''
Exactly, and nor is Federer planning to tumble into the trap of thinking that the Spaniard will be diminished by the blistered palm he says affects him most on serve - the racquet threatening to slip from his taped grasp at times, and the three double-faults in one game against Dimitrov wholly uncharacteristic. Nadal practised on Thursday with his sore hand only lightly taped, apparently as a dress(ing) rehearsal for match night.
But encouraged by Nadal's discomfort? Anticipating it might help tips the scales back just a little? Not Fed. ''Then 210[km/h] bombs are coming my way again,'' he quipped. ''Who knows? He's been tough to play against, no doubt. I'm happy I get a chance to play him in a slam again. I don't remember the last time we played.
''The head-to-head record is in his favour. I'm looking forward to speaking to Stefan, because when he came to Dubai and we spoke about the game, we clearly spoke about playing Rafa, as well. He thought he had some good ideas, so I'm looking forward to what he has to say.''
Federer says the lack of restrictive back pain he endured last year has freed him to think more about tactics, and the racquet change has helped in other ways, for he is getting to more balls that were straying beyond his reach.
''I definitely think that's what I used to do so well, you know, the transition game from defence to offence. I definitely sensed that today I am back physically. I'm explosive out there. I can get to balls. I'm not afraid to go for balls. It's really a big pleasure for me being back in the semi-finals. I think I've played semis here all the way since '03 or '04, maybe.
''This one feels different because of the tougher times I've had in slams, Wimbledon, at the US Open. It's nice to be back in the semis and defend my points from last year. Not that it matters at my age. But it's nice to play a nice tournament.''
Age does not make anything easier, but perhaps more enjoyable sometimes.
''Maybe I can play with less pressure. Maybe I just love it. I still love competition. Still feel maybe there's something big around the corner. I'm just trying to find out and see if that's the case. I do feel it is. But only time will tell if it's possible or not,'' Federer added.