Roger Federer has a very difficult, almost historic task ahead of him at the French Open. One hurdle – Novak Djokovic is already out of the way – but the second is even greater. Beating Rafael Nadal on clay in a best-of-5 format has only ever been done once, and that was by Robin Soderling two years ago.
Now, less that 48 hours after stunning the World No. 2 Djokovic and snapping the Serb’s 43-match win streak, Federer has to recharge and refocus for an entirely different beast, the World No. 1 and King of Clay Rafael Nadal who’s hungry for more hardware after getting shut out in his last two events.
Nadal has owned Federer in their famous rivalry 16-8 winning 11 of 13 on the clay. Nadal also dominates on the hardcourt and even on grass, where Federer should hold the edge, it’s it’s a close affair. Roger’s lone sanctuary against Rafa is indoors and unfortunately Court Stade at Roland Garros won’t have a workable lid on it for a few more years.
Federer though can take solace knowing that he took a set off Nadal last month in Madrid, and he looked really good doing it. The problem is he’ll have to replicate that effort for not one, not two but three full sets just to give himself a chance at winning on Sunday.
That means serving huge and playing offensive, first-strike tennis. And my guess is he’ll do it or die trying. Otherwise he’ll lose. Roger cannot hope that Rafa comes out slow and sluggish like Novak did. It’s a final, Nadal knows what’s at stake and the red stuff at Roland Garros is his home away from home. He’ll have his “A” game. So Roger will have to have his. And I think he will.
As for Nadal, I don’t think he looked that great in the win over Andy Murray on Friday. He’s still making errors, serving so-so and dropping balls short, but against Andy he was hitting that wicked forehand to the Murray backhand corner much better and that’s not a good sign for Federer if Rafa gets that’s going early again.
Federer’s not likely to attack the Nadal serve on the clay like Djokovic or even Murray can, so that will ease the pressure. Nadal in Madrid also said he struggled with altitude which isn’t a problem in Paris. Still, Rafa’s shots have been off measure throughout the fortnight but tomorrow I expect everything to be back online.
The deeper numbers also point to Nadal. In their French Open meetings Nadal leads 4-0 winning three four setters and one in straight sets. And Rafa’s never lost a final in a Grand Slam other than at Wimbledon (to Federer) back in the “early days”. Nadal’s more mature now and when he gets to this stage he’s rarely turned away unless someone can put in a superhuman effort like Djokovic.
So could Federer do the same and conjure up that magic? It’s possible. The guy is a champion and after 24 matches understands what he needs to do to be Nadal, I just don’t think he can execute it over a 5-set match. But if he does it may go down as his single greatest tournament title and one of the greatest runs in history.
On the line for Rafa it would be Slam number 10, just four from Pete Sampras and he stays No. 1. For Federer, it’s another “Career Slam” and he increases his total to 17, and maybe he can win Wimbledon he can start thinking about the No. 1 ranking again in NY.
The key as usual with these two will be how well Federer’s backhand can hold up to the pressure and weight of the Nadal forehand. My guess is Roger will get a set, but in the end it becomes to much and t’s Nadal in four.
Let’s just hope the weather stays dry and it’s a good match. After a heck of a clay season it would be anti-climatic to end with a blowout.
That said, it’s a great time to be a tennis fan. Consider Federer v. Nadal probably wasn’t the final most of us wanted to see, but you know what? We’ll take it.
And a quick congrats to Li Na. She played some extraordinary tennis this week winning her first career Grand Slam today beating defending champion Francesca Schiavone.
Na reached the final at the Australian and now she wins the French, and with very little in the way of points to defend and with the way she hits the ball, it’s very realistic that the 29-year-old could be the next No. 1 on the women’s tour by October. I hope it happens. She should be a force during the US summer and at the Open.
NBC has live coverage of the men’s final starting at 9am ET.
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