In some of the worst conditions they have played in, Rafael Nadal convincingly and comfortably knocked out Roger Federer from the French Open with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win.
Unfortunately, the story of the day did turn out to be the weather and it wasn’t the rain, which didn’t play any role in the Nadal-Federer match, but it was the wind. Extreme wind. Hurricane wind. And it all but made the game of tennis as we know it unplayable.
But credit to Nadal, who in part because of his footwork, margin on the ball and quickness, was just the better player on the day.
Federer needed his serve and his power and in extremely windy conditions and with the way Federer hits – much flatter than Rafa with much less margin – Roger just couldn’t get the timing he needed and as you saw, he flailed on a lot of balls which took away from his ability to properly get to the net.
And when he did get to the net, it seemed like Rafa passed him a lot.
I thought under the circumstances, Roger did well. He started good and went toe-to-toe with Rafa early on, trading breaks. He then got ahead early in the second but couldn’t hold it. Then serving 4-all, 40-0 things fell apart as he lost five straight points and effectively at that point the match was over.
Nadal crushed him in the third and so Rafa advances to his 12th career French Open final and pulls further ahead of Federer 24-15 and 14-2 on clay.
“The conditions out there today have been so hard, so difficult to manage,” said Nadal who has won his last 22 at Roland Garros. “It was a day to just focus, accept all the adversities, and just be focused on [being] positive all the time. That’s what I tried to do.”
Federer said early on it was just a feeling out process.
“I think the first set was mostly about getting used to conditions,” said Federer. “It was incredibly windy. Especially for a big match like this for both of us, it’s just really complicated. So you’re trying to see how much can you do or can you not do? Are you playing flatter or with more spin? Are you keeping the ball in play? Are you going for stuff? I think that was basically the story of the first set, more or less.
“Second set, I think there is definitely a big regret to get broken at 2-0 with the wind on my back,” he said. “If I can avoid that one, maybe the second set turns out to be different. But I think holding serve against the wind with Rafa’s quality on the return is just really hard. He barely misses any.
“And then when he’s in the rally, he plays with great spin on the forehand, great sort of control on the backhand side. So it’s just really hard to find holes, especially in the wind, if you’re trying to hit through the ball, which is really difficult, actually. But it was windy for both. He was better, no doubt about it. But I had maybe mini chances today, but they were not big enough to win today.”
Nadal, who missed on a bunch of break chances early, finished a decent 6/16 on break points with 33 winners to 19 unforced. Federer was 25 winners to 34 unforced and just couldn’t find the mark with the serve, winning just 61% on first serve, 39% on second, and that didn’t get it done.
“You get to a point where you’re just happy to make shots and not look ridiculous. It’s that bad,” said Federer of the conditions. “There is also no way to practice in these conditions. It’s all a mindset. It’s footwork…It was difficult, but I accept that. He played in an incredible way. He has incredible abilities on clay. I knew that ahead of time.”
And Rafa, just as he said, accepted what was in front of him and rolled with the punches.
Now, contrast that attitude with Novak Djokovic’s as he had to play Dominic Thiem in the second match. Djokovic made it known to the chair umpire and the supervisor early on that he wanted no part of playing in the gale-force wind. The officials didn’t see the issue so Djokovic all but tanked the rest of the opening set losing to Thiem 6-2 (I think he lost the last 12 points of the set!).
I have to give credit to Thiem who was playing his game, ripping balls and passing shots despite the wind. It really didn’t bother him that much, while on the other side of the net, you could see Djokovic was stewing.
In the second, Djokovic settled down. At 3-2, the two left the court for a brief rain delay which seemed to recharge Djokovic. Upon return, Djokovic got on a run taking three of the last four games of the set to level things.
In the third, just when it looked like Novak was getting a grip on things, Thiem broke for a 3-1 lead before the rains returned. Djokovic happily ran off the court hoping that was it for the day. Sure enough, it was.
So tomorrow the two return with Thiem serving 3-1 in the third set. Had they finished in the wind – in that wind – I think Novak was going down.
But tomorrow the forecast calls for much better, warmer, drier and less breezier conditions. Novak should be happier (though not totally happy because Nadal is already done!) and I think he’ll get it back together and take out Thiem. And I get the feeling Dominic also knows that was his chance.
Then again, maybe Thiem raises his level even higher in the better conditions, we’ll see.
But I can see why Djokovic is upset. He’s trying to win this Nole Slam, maybe get close to a calendar Slam and he’s having to play in tough conditions and now will have to play for a third straight day and then against a fulllt rested Rafa on Sunday for all the marbles. So it’s tough. Tough being a pro sometimes.
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