French Open 2019

Nadal predicts 'trouble'

Rafael Nadal (left) and Roger Federer will meet for the 39th time in the French Open semi-finals tomorrow. While Nadal is seeking his 12th title, Federer is returning to clay following a three-year break. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, REUTERS
Rafael Nadal (left) and Roger Federer will meet for the 39th time in the French Open semi-finals tomorrow. While Nadal is seeking his 12th title, Federer is returning to clay following a three-year break. PHOTO: EPA-EFE, REUTERS

Spaniard wary of rival Federer despite 5-0 edge in Paris; Swiss says Rafa's the one to beat on clay

PARIS • Only two men have defeated Rafael Nadal on the clay of Roland Garros, where the 11-time French Open champion boasts a 91-2 record.

Roger Federer is not one of them.

Tomorrow, the Swiss maestro will try to check one of the few unchecked boxes on the most impressive resume in men's tennis when he and Nadal resume a rivalry, now 15 years old, that has demanded the best from each.

Their French Open semi-final, set up by the Spaniard's 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Japan's Kei Nishikori on Tuesday, followed by Federer's trickier 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 defeat of fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka, will mark the 39th meeting in their careers.

Nadal, who turned 33 earlier this week, holds a 23-15 overall edge.

But Federer, two months shy of his 38th birthday, has won their past six meetings - albeit not on clay since 2009 in Madrid - and both have dropped only one set en route.

Hailing their last-four clash as a "special moment", Nadal said: "We shared the most important moments of our careers together on court facing each other, so (it) is another episode of this.

"I am happy for that and excited. I really expect that he's going to play aggressive, changing rhythms going to the net.

"Because he's playing well, and he has the tennis to make that happen. I have to be solid. I have to hit the ball strong enough to not allow him to do things from good positions.

"I need to let him play from difficult positions, so from there he's going to have less chances to go to the net or to play his aggressive game.

"If I am able to play good tennis and play well with my forehand and backhand, I hope to put him in trouble. If not, I will be in trouble."

They are friendly rivals, not bitter ones, despite a kerfuffle or two through the seasons.

In recent years, they have supported each other's foundations by playing exhibitions and making appearances, conversed over coffee about ATP Tour politics and played doubles together in the Laver Cup team event, Federer's brainchild.

It is hard to imagine their first face-off since October 2017 will change the dynamic.

World No. 2 Nadal is 5-0 against Federer at Roland Garros, with the latter returning to clay-court tennis after a three-year break.

Yet Federer did not come back to the red dirt only to hear the roars that came on the Suzanne Lenglen Court as he beat Wawrinka.

GAINING THE UPPER HAND

I need to let him play from difficult positions, so from there he's going to have less chances to go to the net or to play his aggressive game.

RAFA NADAL, on his game plan against Roger Federer.


DON'T WRITE ME OFF YET

You just never know. He might have a problem. He might be sick. You might be playing great or for some reason, he's struggling.

FEDERER, on how he always has a chance of winning despite Nadal's 91.75 winning percentage on clay.

  • 5-0

    Nadal's record against Federer at the French Open, but also the Swiss' record against the Spaniard in their last five matches on all surfaces.

The 20-time Grand Slam winner, like Nadal, is a gentleman but also a true competitor, and he no doubt would take delight, and a fair bit of pride, in finally beating his rival at the French Open in what might be the last chance he will get.

The world No. 3 knows it as well - his opponent's shadow is long at any time of day on clay where he has a 91.75 career winning percentage - but feels "there is always a chance, otherwise, nobody will be in the stadium to watch".

He added: "You just never know. He might have a problem. He might be sick. You might be playing great or for some reason, he's struggling.

"That's why you need to put yourself in that position. Now I have the match with Rafa, and I'm clearly excited... I'll give it my best shot. I'm looking forward to the test."

Paying tribute to Nadal, he said: "If you want to do or achieve something on clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa, because he's that strong and he will be there."

Yesterday, torrential rain caused a complete washout of quarter-final action. It is the second time since 2016 that all play was cancelled and the third since 2000. NYTIMES,

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Classic clashes

PARIS • Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will face off for the 39th time when they reprise one of tennis' greatest rivalries in the French Open semi-finals tomorrow.

It will be their first meeting since October 2017 and Federer, 37, has won the last five encounters - although Nadal, 33, leads their head-to-head 23-15 overall and 13-2 on clay.

The pair have not played each other at Roland Garros since the 2011 final, and the Spaniard has five wins in five meetings against the Swiss in Paris.

2005 SEMI-FINALS: NADAL 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3

The then 19-year-old Nadal announced his arrival with a victory over the top-seeded Federer, going on to lift the title - the first of 11 - with a final win over Argentina's Mariano Puerta.

2006 FINAL: NADAL 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4)

Nadal ended Federer's dream of becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, winning in four sets to confirm his clay-court dominance.

It was the start of a run of three consecutive Roland Garros finals to be played between the two.

2007 FINAL: NADAL 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

Another Paris encounter, another four-set win for Nadal. Federer went into the tournament as the world No. 1 again, with Nadal seeded second but, despite the Swiss levelling the match in the second set, there was no stopping the "King of Clay" as he powered to his third straight French Open crown.

2008 FINAL: NADAL 6-1, 6-3, 6-0

A match that shocked the tennis world saw Nadal totally dismantle arguably the game's greatest player on Court Philippe Chatrier.

It was the heaviest defeat of Federer's illustrious Grand Slam career - he managed a paltry four games - as Nadal became only the third player in the Open era to win the title without dropping a set.

2011 FINAL: NADAL 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-1

The closest of their five clashes came eight years ago. Federer managed to keep things competitive before Nadal turned on the afterburners in the final set.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2019, with the headline 'Nadal predicts 'trouble''. Print Edition | Subscribe