Roger Federer will descend into tennis history with 20 Grand Slam titles and unparalleled grace as the most artful practitioner of the game and, in the view of many, its greatest player in history.
Nadal outplayed Federer on Court Philippe Chatrier in every facet of the game, Friday in the most anticipated tennis match in years. Where the Spaniard muscled, ran, retrieved and blasted his way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory that sends him on to Sunday’s final and an opportunity to extend his record of 11 French Open championships.
It was the 39th career meeting of longtime competitors, but their first meeting since 2011 at Roland Garros. Federer had won their last five matches, but in six attempts at the French Open, he has never yet beaten Nadal.
No wonder: Nadal, 33, is an 11-time French Open champion and history’s biggest clay-court player. Federer, 37, is not too shabby on the dirt either, as he showed by reaching the semifinals despite not playing at Roland Garros in four years.
Nadal began hard, breaking his way to a 3-0 lead, but Federer, attempting to attack Nadal’s forehand side of the room, struck back to 2-3 to get back on duty. The key in the opener was a lengthy sixth game, Nadal lastly took it to break for 4-2 and throughout held the benefit of taking it 6-3 with a wonderful backhand cross-court.
There was another aspect that feels like déjà vu in this game: the crowd. The French fans screamed after every winning Federer point, as they always did when these two play, and gave tedious applause to Nadal. When the match was over, they stood up and cheered as Federer walked away and said goodbye, maybe for the last time; if this was the last run of the 37-year-old at Roland Garros, he made it worthy and memorable.
The collective voice of the fans swelled as they chanted “Ro-ger!” when Nadal reached match point. Then Nadal swung a slice into the backhand of Federer, and Federer hit the comeback long. There are some things that never change.