He’s the King of Clay for good reason. Rafael Nadal ran his French Open streak to 20 today after demolishing countryman David Ferrer 62, 62, 61 in the semifinals today.
Records are next and so too is Novak Djokovic, also a straight-set winner over Roger Federer.
Nadal, 51-1 in Paris, will seek a record 7th French Open and 11th overall Grand Slam victory against the Serb. It’s the fourth straight Grand Slam final meeting!
Afterward, Nadal spoke about his improved play this week and much more:
Q. Of your many memorable matches on this particular court, how highly would that rate amongst your victories, do you think?
RAFAEL NADAL: Today?
Q. Yes, today.
RAFAEL NADAL: Sure was one of my best matches in this court, yeah. I think I played really solid match with not easy conditions out there, a lot of wind.
In my opinion I did almost everything right, because my serve worked very well, changing directions. My backhand was the best day so far today. The forehand, I hit well the forehand during all the tournament. Today wasn’t an exception.
But probably today the only difference is today I played close to the baseline and last day when I came here after the match after Almagro, I say that I would like to play a little bit more closer to the baseline, more inside, than the last match.
I will need to try to beat against the next opponents. I did today. I am very happy; sorry for David. He deserve it. He’s a great fighter. He’s always there week after week.
Sure, it’s very important victory for me, and to win with this result against one of the best players of the moment, one of the best players of the world, is because I did very well. If not, is impossible to win against David like this.
Q. How close to perfection is your game at the moment?
RAFAEL NADAL: I don’t believe in perfection, no? I really don’t like to talk about perfection, because that, my opinion, doesn’t exist. You can play always better.
But, sure, I am very happy the way that I am playing. Probably today was my best much on the tournament. That’s fantastic, play my best match in one semifinals and against probably the more difficult opponent that I play here.
Q. It’s easier to break serve on clay? You have been broken only once in the tournament. It’s pretty amazing. How can you explain that?
RAFAEL NADAL: I say the other day, sure, is easier to have breaks on clay. But I say the other day, the first two rounds, in my opinion, I didn’t serve very well. My serve didn’t work very well.
But I only lost one time my serve in the first round against Bolelli. In the second set I think. Or the third, second, I don’t know, but I was 4Love, 30Love.
I played very well from the baseline during all the tournament. I played without mistakes. But that’s true, after the first two rounds my serve started to work much better.
And the combination of serving well with good percentage, changing directions. After that, we followed that with very good game from the baseline. Playing aggressive with my forehand with no mistakes is more difficult to have breaks.
But, anyway, only lose one time is a coincidence, because I have break points against. I saved a few ones like today on the beginning with lucky.
Is impossible only arrive to a final of Grand Slam with only one break on clay without a little bit of lucky in some moments. But that’s true that probably I saved less moments than usual with my serve.
Q. You’re obviously totally focused when you begin a match. Are you a bit surprised, disappointed, that a Grand Slam semifinal, the first set, the stadium is half empty, particularly around the court?
RAFAEL NADAL: No. Is the timing probably wasn’t the best. 1:00 is probably not the best timing. That’s the reason, no, in my opinion. I played almost every day I can’t say every day with a full court.
Is not disappointing when you play since the first round, you know, with full crowd, full stadium in every round and you arrive to the semifinals, you play 1:00 in the afternoon. At 1:00 is a little bit early, no? I see after, at the end of the match, the court was almost everything full.
The normal thing, in my opinion I don’t remember very well, but last couple years we started at 2:00? 1:00, too? Always at 1:00?
I had the feeling that we started at 2:00. I don’t know why.
Q. There was one great point during that rally with more than 30 strokes. You fell on your back. How did you react? What went through your mind when you slipped? And then afterwards, what do you think about such a point? What does it say about tennis?
RAFAEL NADAL: You know, is a combination of a few things, you know. Confidence, because I was playing well in that moment. I was playing better and better, and I fell down it was in the second set or beginning of the second, probably, yes, with 30All.
So, you know, I came from a few very good games after the 21 against me in the beginning of the first. I played like five, six games, very solid ones, playing better and better in every moment.
So you arrive to this situation, 30All, you play a fantastic point, you fall down, but seriously I saw the ball all the time. Sometimes even if I lost the balance of my ball and I fell down, I was watching the ball in every moment.
So even if I am on the floor, I had the time to hit the ball in reasonable good position, no? That’s all.
Q. You lost two games to Juan Monaco in a previous round, very good player, highly regarded player. Today the No. 6 player in the world gets five games off you. What do you think that says about the level of competition to you on clay, on this surface, at the moment from the rest of the players?
RAFAEL NADAL: The level of competition always is very high. We cannot expect to have less competition this year than last year. For example, that I saved a few different difficult matches. I lost matches on clay.
The reason is probably playing one of my best levels on clay the last couple of matches. That’s the reason of the results. You know, I only remember these results on me in 2008 here.
To have these results always you have to unify a little different facts. Today, for example, I saved a very important point at 21 in the first set. You never know if he have the 31, he was playing better than me at the beginning of the match, just beginning, and you never know what’s going on.
But that’s tennis; that’s the sport. Sometimes you feel great. Seems like everything is going in your favor. Sometimes you feel the opposite.
But the reason is I am playing well since the beginning of the season. I am having almost perfect clay court season, and we’ll see what’s going on in the final. It’s gonna be a very tough match, and doesn’t matter what’s happened during all the tournament.
That’s going to be a special match against No. 1 or No. 3 of the world. I will see what’s going on, because it will be a very difficult battle for me.
Q. I got the microphone three questions ago, and now you answered a bit. So you’re more confident than ever now the way you’re playing since this is the fourth time already that you are in the final without losing a set? This is different from the other times when you got to the final without losing a set? Are you even more confident because you are playing much, much better, you don’t give any chance to any player or?
RAFAEL NADAL: No, no. The only thing that I don’t think is I am in the final without losing a set. The way that I think is I am in the final; I am playing well; hopefully I can play one more match at this level. That’s all.
Difficult to compare the feeling of 2008 with 2010, with 2011, because every year you have a different feeling, different situations, different experiences you arrive with. You know, you are very much older, I am today.
The experience give me that you can lose when you are playing fantastic; you can win when you are not playing that well. You have to be with calm, with feet on the floor and fighting every ball, and try to be ready for Sunday. Hopefully I will.
But more or less confidence than 2008 and 2010 or 2005, that really doesn’t matter, because only thing that’s going to matter is how I’m going to play on this Sunday.
Q. We’re now guaranteed that 28 of the last 29 Grand Slams have been won by three players, whoever wins the semifinal. But can you give some thoughts on this kind of dominance from three players? Never really seen that in men’s tennis before.
RAFAEL NADAL: I am not the right one to say that probably, because any word I will say will sound arrogant maybe. So that’s not the way that I like to answer the question. So you can answer, and other people.
But I think that’s much the answer, no, because is difficult for me to answer this question.
THE MODERATOR: Spanish questions, please.
Q. We saw you when you were there on the court. Nelson Monfort was speaking in Spanish and you were answering in French. Why? Well, by the way, this was a good thing to do; we could understand you clearly.
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, French and Catalan are languages that are quite similar. You know, at the end of the day there are a few words that I’ve learnt, you know, after coming here.
Sometimes I dare; sometimes I wouldn’t dare to speak French.
Q. You’ve probably said this in English, but I’d like to ask you how you feel now that you’re going to play the finals. Are you as happy as before, that is, the previous years?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, thank you very much. I’m really glad. I’m highly motivated, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I’m really happy. I’m looking forward to it.
And, you know, you can’t save a country if you’re not motivated enough, if you haven’t got enough energy. You can’t look forward to it. So I’m really very happy and looking forward to the finals.
Q. It’s your seventh finals here in Paris. What does this mean for you now that you’re going to play the finals?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, you know, this means I play well. I’m playing a good type of tennis. I’ve improved since last year, and things have turned out quite positively for me since the beginning of the year.
And then I’ll be playing the Grand Slam finals, which is something quite special for me. This tournament is special for me. I’m really happy to reach this level, that is, the finals.
Considering what’s happened so far, I’d say this tournament has been excellent for me, and then we’ll see what happens next, what is is going to happen during the finals.
I mean, if I were to win I’d be very happy, but the best thing for me is to reap the fruit of these so many years of work.
I’d like to change my style a little and be more aggressive, slightly more aggressive. Anyway, I’m really happy to reach the finals irrespective of what might happen during the finals, because I’ve improved. I’ve gone a notch up, if you will.
My level has improved slightly against last year’s. I’ll see if I win or lose. But I’m satisfied and happy, because I’ve already improved.
Last year I had the impression I didn’t really play that well; whereas this year I’m playing really well. But that’s sport, you know. So far, so good.
I’ll still practice and work on a number of things. Of course, on Sunday I’ll play my best tennis.
Q. You’ve said you’ve gone a notch up or you’ve gone through a step. Do you think you’ve reached your best type of tennis on clay, or close to it?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, I don’t really remember. Are you talking about 2008 or are you talking about 2010 or 2005? I don’t know. You know, it’s a bit complicated. I don’t really realize.
But anyway, the thing I can tell you is that I’ve changed a number of things in my game. My level is still very high, which is something very positive. It’s equally important to have the right feelings, and to have the impression that you’re improving is something important.
It counts to be motivated. I’m still very much eager to learn and do things all the time better and better.
This is what motivates me, what makes me happy. I’m not talking about my results, which is the logical consequence of what I’ve just said. But my objective, as I’ve always said, is to always improve day after day.
Q. As we’ve said, it’s your seventh finals here at Roland Garros. The score was 62, 62, 61. You have 51 victories and 51 consecutive sets won on clay, which is incredible. All of these statistics and records are incredible. It’s extraordinary, as if you were not a human being.
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, no. I am, of course. I think that there are things I understand today better than before. I work daily; I practice daily; I meet these objectives daily without really thinking about them.
Each time you’re on the courts, you know, you know that you might lose, as well; you might be defeated. So I have to keep a low profile about it; we have to be humble.
By the way, you know, these statistics don’t come out of the blue. This is the result of the work I’ve put in day in, day out.
Also it’s thanks to this desire that I have to improve that I’ve had all of these results. Without all of these ingredients I couldn’t have done what you have said, all of these numbers that I was not really aware of.
Then I’ll have to continue and practice and work and keep my focus until Sunday so that I can continue and then finish the season. So far I got off to a really good start. I’m really satisfied with what’s happened.
I’m really happy about the things that life has given me so far.
Q. Some of your points were incredible, and the games, as well. There was one where you were on the clay seated; that was incredible. Has this happened to you before, to win a point this way?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, I think so. I think in Wimbledon almost the same type of situation, a passing shot. I can’t remember how I won the point or not. It was either Wimbledon or Queen’s. I think I got the point once against Federer, the other one against Djokovic.
So Federer was the finals at Wimbledon, and Djokovic was at Queen’s, I think, almost. So I fell at that moment, but I knew I could still hit the ball. You know, I wanted to come to the net but the ball had not bounced high enough, so I couldn’t volley and I fell.
In any case, my eyes were always on the ball. I’m not saying it’s easy. I didn’t feel like it was easy. But my eyes were constantly on the ball.
Then when I realized I couldn’t volley, I thought, Okay, it’s still within reach. I can hit it, I thought.
Q. In a nutshell, since 2005 how did you manage to learn more and more? How did you acquire more and more experience? Would you say that your tennis today is richer than before?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, yes. You know, you constantly learn new things. You have to remember a number of things, a number of ingredients. Sometimes you might lose some of these ingredients.
Maybe I’ve lost some of my energy. When I was younger I could rally longer, I think. Everything was a novelty for me. Today perhaps there is less novelty about it for me.
But otherwise I think that tennis will very much depend on the surface you play on. The game will be different on a different surface.
As I said before, that is, during my first press conference, I said, In the past I will try and play as many tournaments as I could. Now I play half of the tournaments on clay compared to what I would do in the past.
I think that in terms of my moves, I move better on clay. I don’t feel as much electricity as I felt in the past, but I think that it’s true to say that my tennis has improved.
Q. In another conference you said that this year you have more confidence, you’re more aggressive, you play better tennis compared to last year’s tennis. You also said that this started in Australia, even though you were defeated in the finals.
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, yes, if I lose again I will say exactly the same.
Q. The question is: You’ve played excellent tennis in Australia; that was your best level probably. Now with your victories against Djokovic in Rome and MonteCarlo, would you say these victories were very important for you so that you could come up with this level of tennis at Roland Garros?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, no. You know, these are two victories, okay, but you can win only if you have enough confidence, if you’re serene.
You know, this level, I had it in Australia already. This is when it started, even though I lost seven points in a row in Australia, I think.
However, my level in Australia is similar to today’s level. The surface was faster, the conditions were more complicated, but yet I played an excellent type of tennis. I was defeated during the finals, which might again happen this year.
So after losing the finals in Australia, I thought, however, I’m satisfied. I played good tennis. I’m satisfied with my tournament so far.
I was sad because I had been beaten; yet I was proud, proud of my style, the way I had fought back. There was a passing shot, a backhand along the line which I missed, which was otherwise easy.
But that’s sports, you know. We have to accept this. And the fact of winning or losing is one thing, that’s true, but we should never forget the reality of things. I won in Rome and MonteCarlo because my tennis was better against Djokovic.
Maybe I’ve won today because my level was better. And the fact of beating and defeating Djokovic, that’s true, gave me more confidence. Sometimes you have positive streaks; sometimes you have negative streaks. They don’t come out of the blue.
So it’s all very nice to look at things from a distance or afterwards. But one should be careful in doing this so as not to come up with misconstrued ideas. We have to look at reality.
If today I win a match, that’s okay. If I lose one, it’s due to a number of ingredients. That’s life. You know, that’s sports. We shouldn’t look too far or too deep for reasons sometimes.
Q. I think sometimes that you said in Australia you found your way. Where did you find this new path, this new way? Was it in New York or somewhere else?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, in New York, that’s true, mentally I was better. I was more demanding. I know how far I can go, which is something I couldn’t do before; whereas in Australia, in Melbourne, I decided to try and find his limits, the opponent’s limits, because I believed in what I was doing.
Mentally the situation was different in Australia, in Melbourne, compared to the US Open. According to me, I was mentally better in New York.
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