PARIS • Before their French Open semi-final showdown, it was all about the dizzying numbers and statistics but, once great rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer stepped onto centre court, all that mattered was both men's preternatural ability to strike a small yellow ball.
Yesterday, Nadal's swinging, looping, whip-crack style prevailed over Federer's finesse and near-perfect timing as he reached the final with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win.
The Spaniard is now one win away from a record-extending 12th Roland Garros title after he coped better in gusty conditions.
In the 39th match of their incredible rivalry, it was Nadal - for the 24th time overall and the sixth time in Paris - who also kept his cool, kept his feet moving and denied Federer the dream of adding to his 2009 title.
He will take on either world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, or Dominic Thiem, who he beat in last year's final, for the chance of an 18th Slam title.
And with the benefit of an extra few hours of rest, Nadal will be favourite once again in his 12th appearance in the championship match, which he has never lost.
Roland Garros is the most important tournament to me... He is probably the best player in history, it was a pleasure to play against him today.
RAFAEL NADAL, the King of Clay, after demolishing his great rival Roger Federer in the French Open semi-finals.
"It was very difficult, the wind was incredible. But I am very happy to be into the final again," Nadal said, speaking in French after the win which improved his record in Paris to a staggering 92-2.
"Roland Garros is the most important tournament to me.
"It is always a tough match against Roger and we had tough conditions today.
"Congratulations to him. It is incredible he is playing at this level at 37. He is probably the best player in history, it was a pleasure to play against him today."
The Spaniard, 33, had never lost to Federer in their five previous meetings at the Grand Slam. But he had not beaten the Swiss in their last five matches overall, stretching back to 2014 when he won their Australian Open semi-final.
Something had to give, and it was Federer's winning streak - with no little brutality.
Back on clay for the first time since 2016 and the first time at Roland Garros since 2015, the 20-time Slam champion had played superb tennis to get to the last four for the first time in seven years.
But resistance was futile on Court Philippe Chatrier, Nadal's stomping ground.
The wind, which swirled and gusted at 80kmh at times, made life incredibly difficult for both, but played into the Spaniard's hands.
He has always been renowned as the best wind player, his footwork so outstanding, and he will have felt more comfortable than Federer, whose aggressive game style requires perfect timing.
He made only 19 unforced errors, crushing 33 winners as Federer struck 25, although that amount could easily have been doubled against any opponent other than the King of Clay.
"It was just crazy, the thing (wind)," Federer said. "I'll have to clear my eyes to see what I'm eating tonight. You get to the point where you're just happy to make shots.
"It's that bad."
He was also non-committal about his future, adding: "I still don't know if I will be here next year."
Former world No. 1 Mats Wilander said the blustery conditions killed the match - and Federer's chances.
"The wind basically destroyed the match, certainly in terms of ball-striking," he said on Eurosport.
"It seems that with Rafa Nadal it doesn't matter what you do on this Philippe Chatrier court because he's just too solid and too confident.
"The key was his footwork because he takes so many small steps and, in windy conditions, small steps are very important."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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