Sun, Jun 09, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Nadal continues clay dominance

WIND AND RAIN:Weather delayed play at Roland Garros such that Rafael Nadal was made to wait to see who he would face in today’s final of the men’s singles

AP, PARIS

Rafael Nadal celebrates after his semi-final match against Roger Federer at the French Open in Paris on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

It is tough enough for Roger Federer to try to deal with Rafael Nadal’s unflinching excellence on the French Open’s red clay. Mix in a wild wind, and Federer, so great for so long against anyone else and anywhere else, morphed into merely good. However, good, even Federer’s brand of good, was not nearly enough on Friday.

Nadal made quick work of Federer in their first meeting at Roland Garros since 2011, outperforming his rival 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in air whipping at more than 12kph to reach his record 12th final in Paris as he pursues his record 12th championship.

This was Federer’s most lopsided Grand Slam defeat since he gathered a measly four games in a loss to Nadal in the 2008 French Open title match.

“He makes you feel uncomfortable the way he defends the court and plays on clay. There is nobody who even plays remotely close to him,” said Federer, who had not entered the tournament since 2015. “I don’t even know who I need to go search for, to go practice with somebody who plays like him. I was thinking that during the match.”

Nadal has never lost a semi-final at the clay-court major and never lost a final, either.

When told of those facts, Nadal said: “It’s incredible, being honest.”

He has also never lost to Federer at Roland Garros, improving to 6-0. Overall, Nadal leads their series 24-15. Federer had won their past five meetings, but those were all on hard courts.

It is a whole different task to take on Nadal on clay, in general, and at the French Open, in particular, where he is 92-2 for his career.

In today’s final, the No. 2-seeded Nadal faces wither No. 1 Novak Djokovic or No. 4 Dominic Thiem. Their semi-final, was suspended for the day in the third set because of rain in the evening and interrupted again yesterday. Thiem was leading 4-3 in the fifth set at press time last night.

That meant whoever won would enter the final for a fifth day of play in a row against a well-rested Nadal.

In the women’s final yesterday, No. 8 Ash Barty faced unseeded 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.

Like so many times before, it was Nadal’s topspin-heavy lefty forehand, his relentless ball-chasing and his return game that gave Federer fits. Even frustrated the guy so much that the generally stoic Federer smacked a tennis ball toward the stands after getting broken to trail 2-1 in the third set.

“It’s just amazing how he plays from deep and then is able to bounce back and forth from the baseline,” Federer said. “I didn’t play a poor two first sets, in my opinion. I thought Rafa really had to come up with the goods to make the difference, and the difference was a passing shot here, a pickup there.”

Nadal’s passes and pickups — not to mention his reflexes — are exceptional. More than once, he slid to his right, beyond the doubles alley, to extend a point by retrieving the seemingly irretrievable with a backhand, then followed it up by sprinting to his left for a jaw-droppingly precise forehand that flew out of Federer’s reach and veered to land near a line.

More than once, Nadal punctuated the point by pumping his fist and yelling, “Vamos.”

The wind was so unchecked that it knocked a tarp off its moorings behind a baseline. It tossed loose dirt from the court into both players’ eyes, so much so that Federer joked it felt as if they were playing in a sandbox. There was also drizzle and temperatures of about 15°C. Enough to make one wish the retractable roof due to be installed before next year’s French Open was already in place.

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