Tennis star Rafael Nadal mastered the tough weather conditions in Paris on Friday, to overcome his long-time rival Roger Federer and advance to an incredible 12th Roland Garros final.
The Spanish superstar won the 39th edition of their legendary rivalry 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in two hours and 25 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier to improve to a 92-2 record at the clay-court Grand Slam championship. It was also his 14th win in 16 clay-court matches against Federer.
Nadal will now prepare to capture the 18th major championship crown of his career against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the 2016 champion in Paris, or Dominic Thiem, which would represent a repeat of last year’s final. Nadal trails Djokovic 26-28 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, but beat the Serbian three weeks ago for his ninth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title. He is 8-4 overall against Thiem and the Spaniard will be aiming to avenge his 6-4, 6-4 semi-final loss at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell in April.
Two weeks ago, 11-time Roland Garros champion Nadal admitted that when it is windy at his academy in Mallorca, he simply practises indoors, but on Friday, the 33-year-old played his best match of the championship: controlling his groundstroke length and neutralising Federer’s attacks to the net (17/34). Overall, Nadal hit 80 per cent of his first-serves into court, struck 32 winners and committed 18 unforced errors
In less than perfect conditions, with light rain and gusts of wind recorded at more than 39 miles per hour, Nadal saved one break point in the first game and grew in confidence. Federer struggled, unsure of his groundstroke timing, and struck a backhand into the net on Nadal’s third break point in the second game. Nadal came within a point of leading 4-1, but Federer held on and sealed his first service break with Nadal over-hit a backhand.
Nadal’s depth of groundstroke continued to pressurise Federer, who saved four break points in a 20-point sixth game. But on Nadal’s fifth opportunity, he forced Federer to play one extra stroke and took a 4-2 led with a forehand error from the Swiss. Nadal went on to close out the opener with a terrific backhand crosscourt winner – his eighth of the 51-minute first set.
Federer committed 17 unforced errors, the majority coming in the first three games, before he settled. With clay dust blowing around the main show court, both players needed to take their time before delivering serves. At the President’s Box end, through to the end of the first set, the average game time was two minutes, 19 seconds and five minutes, 49 seconds at the other end of the court.
Federer took a 2-0 lead at the start of the second set when Nadal struck a backhand down the line long at 30/40. Minutes later, Nadal bounced back. Defending deep behind the baseline, Nadal converted his third break point chance with a forehand winner off a Federer smash.
Federer, serving first in the set, applied the pressure, hitting deep and approaching the net at the right times, but Nadal was locked in on his groundstroke length and found gaps in the court. At 4-4, Federer led 40/0 but Nadal recovered with relentless consistency and won his fifth straight point to break with a forehand volley. Nadal then closed out the second set, which lasted 50 minutes, with a hold to love.
Nadal took complete control when returning a backhand, which clipped the net and caught Federer off-guard on break point at 2-1 in the third set. Frustrated, Federer launched a tennis ball out of the show court. At 1-3, 15/40 Nadal completed a 16-stroke rally with a forehand winner to effectively end Federer’s challenge. Nadal won eight of nine games from 3-4 down in the second set to 5-1 in the third set and went on to complete his sixth victory over Federer at Roland Garros.
Source: ATP Tour