PARIS (AP) – It’s rough enough for Roger Federer – well, let’s be honest, anyone holding a tennis racket – to try to deal with Rafael Nadal’s unflinching excellence on the French Open’s red clay.
Mix in a wild wind, and Federer, so great for so long, against anyone else and anywhere else, morphed into merely good. And good, even Federer’s brand of good, was not nearly enough Friday.
Nadal made quick work of Federer in their first meeting at Roland Garros since 2011, outperforming his rival 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in air whipping at more than 20 mph (12 kph) to reach his record 12th final in Paris as he pursues his record 12th championship.
This was Federer’s most lopsided Grand Slam defeat since he gathered a measly four games in a loss to – guess who? – Nadal in the 2008 French Open title match.
“He makes you feel uncomfortable the way he defends the court and plays on clay. There is nobody who even plays remotely close to him,” said Federer, who hadn’t entered the tournament since 2015. “I don’t even know who I need to go search for, to go practice with somebody who plays like him. I was thinking that during the match.”
Nadal has never lost a semifinal at the clay-court major. Never lost a final, either. When told of those facts, Nadal replied, matter-of-factly: “It’s incredible, being honest.”
He’s also never lost to Federer at Roland Garros, improving to 6-0. Overall, Nadal leads their series 24-15. Federer had won their past five meetings, but those were all on hard courts.
It’s a whole different task to take on Nadal on clay, in general, and at the French Open, in particular, where he is 92-2 for his career.
In Sunday’s final, the No. 2-seeded Nadal will play No. 1 Novak Djokovic or No. 4 Dominic Thiem. Their semifinal, played second Friday, was suspended for the day in the third set because of rain in the evening. Thiem was leading 6-2, 3-6, 3-1 when play was halted. About 45 minutes later, officials announced the match would resume Saturday. That means whoever wins would be competing for a fourth day in a row in the final against a well-rested Nadal.
This was the first time since 2011 the four top-seeded men were in the Roland Garros semifinals.
Nadal, meanwhile, is bidding for his 18th. Among men, only Federer has more, with 20.
Like so many times before, it was Nadal’s topspin-heavy lefty forehand, his relentless ball-chasing and his return game that gave Federer fits. Even frustrated the guy so much that the generally stoic Federer smacked a tennis ball toward the stands after getting broken to trail 2-1 in the third set.
It would soon be over.
“It’s just amazing how he plays from deep and then is able to bounce back and forth from the baseline,” Federer said. “I didn’t play a poor two first sets, in my opinion. I thought Rafa really had to come up with the goods to make the difference, and the difference was a passing shot here, a pickup there.”
Blithely put. The fact is, Nadal’s passes and pickups – not to mention his reflexes – are not of this world.
More than once, he slid to his right, beyond the doubles alley, to extend a point by retrieving the seemingly irretrievable with a backhand, then followed it up by sprinting to his left for a jaw-droppingly precise forehand that flew out of Federer’s reach and veered to land near a line.
And more than once, Nadal punctuated the point by pumping his fist and yelling, “Vamos!”