It was one of the most highly-anticipated tennis matches we’ve seen in years. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal met at the French Open for the first time since 2011. It’s the first time since 2005 that they have met in Paris before the final. Federer has never beaten Nadal here. The Swiss Maestro’s lone French Open title came back in 2009. That year, he defeated Robin Soderling in the final, after Soderling had defeated Nadal in the fourth round. A decade later, Federer returned to clay made his return to clay, and would have to do something he’s never done before–beat Nadal at the French Open.
The stage was set. Rain hurt the scheduling of this tournament, but it didn’t affect this match at all. Could Federer beat Nadal on clay for the first time since Madrid in 2009? Every tennis fan worldwide waited with bated breath, and we were about to find out.
Federer started the match reasonably well, forcing a long opening service game by Nadal. The Federer backhand–which struggled so much historically in his losses to Nadal–looked pretty solid. The wind was disturbing both players from the very beginning, though they adjusted as the match went on. Nadal help the opening game, and he was able to follow that up by breaking Federer the following game. The Swiss had held 31 straight service games prior to the match, but he couldn’t hold his opening game of the match.
The Mallorcan couldn’t hold his serve throughout the rest of the first set, but did break right back as soon as Federer broke for 3-2. The tennis was great all over the court, but the first set scoreline wouldn’t show it. Nadal took a 6-3 set that was much tighter than the score indicates.
The second set was far tighter, and by all indications Federer should have won it. He went up an early break, though he gave it right back. He then had an opening when Nadal was serving at 4-4, but he couldn’t quite force a break point. Then, Federer led 40-0 in the following game. He lost five straight points, and then Nadal held at love to take the second set 6-4.
Federer gave up a break early in the third set, and the match looked over from there. The Swiss put everything into breaking right back, and when he couldn’t achieve that he collapsed a little. He was broken again, and Nadal ran away with the final set and the match.
How Nadal won the match
There is a lot to say about this match, and there are a lot of little things that could have swung it either way. Federer’s inability to put away easy passes from in close (or to even just rifle them straight at Nadal) made a huge difference in the second set. The wind was also a definite factor. We could hear uncharacteristic grunting from Federer whenever he had to hit into the wind. That, and a million other little things, made a difference.
The one thing that really decided the match was Nadal’s play from the baseline. The Spaniard was in vintage form and was nearly unplayable. He got back everything, pushed them deep, and hit incredible angles and passing shots for winners. Nothing Federer did could get past the Mallorcan, and it frustrated him tremendously. After being broken early in the third set, Federer hit a ball out of the court in frustration–and two points later, Nadal retrieved huge shot after huge shot from Federer, only to end the point with a backhand winner. That point was indicative of the match as a whole–Federer threw everything he had at Nadal, but the 11-time champion here always had an answer.
Next up for Nadal
The Spaniard will play for an incredible 12th French Open final on Sunday. He will meet either Dominic Thiem–last year’s runner-up–or Novak Djokovic in the final. Djokovic has currently won three consecutive Majors, and is the last man to beat Nadal in Paris (back in 2015). Yet, somehow, Djokovic has flown under the radar with all of the attention on Federer and Nadal. Thiem, meanwhile, has beaten Nadal on clay, including in the semifinals of Madrid this year. Nadal, of course, is 11-0 in French Open finals, and has never dropped more than on set in a final. Whoever faces the Spaniard will have a tough task, but it’s one they each have proven somewhat capable of.
Federer will move on to grass, a surface he’s much more comfortable on. How deep can he go at Wimbledon? We’ll find out, but this result at the French Open for him has to sting quite a bit.
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