I’m not shocked we are seeing another Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, but I am shocked it’s happening in the semifinals! Sure, it’s no surprise Nadal, the King of Clay himself, would make it out to the last weekend, but Federer? I did not expect that.
The guy who hasn’t played at the French Open in four years is again waving his magic wand. He reached the quarters without dropping a set. Then he escaped a patch trouble in the third set, avoided a 2-1 deficit to turn away a depleted (I think) Stan Wawrinka in four sets yesterday.
If you step back and think about Federer at age 37 making the semifinals at his worst Slam and losing just one set en route, it does sound crazy. But when you go match-by-match, he had a joke of a draw and then, like I said, got really lucky with Stan probably not being at his best after that 5-hour marathon against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
On top of that, he benefits the most of getting two days off – remember when he asked to play that first Sunday? This assured him of an extra day before possibly playing Rafa in the semifinals. Was he thinking that far ahead? I don’t know, but it turned out to be a smart move, but will it work?
To the match.
Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal
So the answer is, it’s not going work. Sorry! Roger had a great draw, one he couldn’t have hand-picked any better. And now he gets Rafa and I don’t think it’s going to end well. At least not the match that is, for Roger.
I know Federer’s won the last five, but none of those came on clay. And Rafa’s 13-2 against Roger on clay, 5-0 at the French and it’s about to be 6-0.
Thanks to that new, bigger frame, Federer backhand is still solid but any short ball off that wing and Fed’s immediately in trouble against Nadal. And that’s pretty much the match. The slower, possibly wetter (forecast calls for rain on Friday), clay is going to hurt Federer hitting through the court. Same will be true of Rafa, but I just think the Spaniard has more power and moves better than Roger right now. He’s been popping his serve pretty good, too.
I also think Federer has to be extremely pleased getting by Wawrinka and making the French semifinals. Three months ago I don’t think he saw this kind of run happening when he announced his return. And he’ll have a look at Nadal without any real expectations or urgency. And few, if any, are thinking an upset could happen. So I think this meeting will be the first where Roger just goes in and lets it fly. So who knows, maybe when he does, then things start happening.
Obviously, Federer will want to avoid long rallies and instead attack, especially off Rafa’s second serve. And then be mindful of court position and error count.
Roger’s a smart guy, he knows what it takes. But I just think Rafa’s going to get Roger on the run and that’s going to be a problem.
That all said, I’m not sold Rafa is at the peak of his powers. He’s also had a nice draw and after losing 5 straight to Fed, there has to be some tension, some doubt. Plus all the pressure will be on him, not Roger. He’s the King of Clay. He’s 91-2 at Roland Garros. He’s piled up all these ridiculous clay stats. He can’t possibly lose to a guy who is about to turn 38?
By the end, I just think Rafa’s too strong here. Roger will be happy making the semis and that will put him in good shape for grass which is his best surface. Meanwhile, Rafa keeps racking up records on his surface…
The pick: Rafael Nadal in 3
As for the matches tomorrow, the rain really doesn’t matter much because I think Novak Djokovic beats Alexander Zverev, maybe in four sets. Djokovic has been a wrecking ball all event while Zverev has been hanging on for dear life it seems. Tomorrow, that ball hits him.
And I’ll lean to Dominic Thiem to KO Karen Khachanov in four sets. I don’t think Khachanov moves well enough or has that raw Delpo-like power. And I expect Thiem to wear him down, take advantage of his foot speed and and just out-clay him.
What’s great is, with virtually all the top guys getting through, it’s hard to see a bad final on Sunday!
Before then, Tennis Channel and NBC will share coverage tomorrow.
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