On Friday, tennis fans will be treated to the 39th match between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Nadal holds a 23-15 edge, most of his advantage coming from his 13-2 mark on clay. Though Nadal, 33, has lost their last five meetings, Federer, 37, has never beaten him at the French Open. Federer, in fact, has won only four of the 19 sets they have played at Roland Garros.
Here are excerpts from The New York Times articles about their matches in Paris.
Nadal d. Federer, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
Rafael Nadal turned 19 the day that he beat the world’s No. 1 player, Roger Federer, in the semifinals of the French Open.
But this was only, in part, a gift from Federer, since the silken Swiss master started slowly and finished slowly as Nadal prevailed, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Federer missed many more forehands than usual. He also missed important serves, let his chin drop on occasion, howled with frustration, and even banged the side of his head with his racket strings at one stage. In other words, this match did not quite live up to the anticipation that preceded it.
But such atypical behavior was also a credit to the fourth-seeded Nadal: to his precocious presence, to his abundant energy and to his world-class nerve. In his first French Open, the Majorcan has so far handled everything this least predictable of the four Grand Slam events can hurl at him.
Nadal had the crowd against him again, but he never cracked, and his reward was a place in the final against another strong and hard-running left-hander, Mariano Puerta of Argentina. [Nadal went on to win the first of his 11 French Open titles two days later.]
“For me, it’s incredible to be in the final, beating the No. 1 player,” Nadal said. “It is a dream.” — CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
Nadal d. Federer, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4)
One momentous tennis streak ran into another, and Roger Federer’s eventually shuddered to a halt as Rafael Nadal successfully defended his French Open title with a 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory.
This was more than a battle of topspin forehands and eye-catching defensive skills. It was a battle of statistics, with Nadal riding a record 59-match winning streak on clay, and Federer trying to become the third man to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a row and the first man to win his first eight major finals.
“It’s really a shame after doing all that, traveling the long road I did, not to finish off the four Grand Slams,” Federer said.
Federer came on strong in his first final at Roland Garros, and Nadal came out nervously, struggling to control his groundstrokes. He even let out a rare yelp or two of frustration.
But the now-classic clay-court soundtrack and order were soon restored as Nadal, the young Spaniard, kept Federer pinned largely to the baseline and locked in the sort of gritty, angle-filled duels that Nadal had the perfect game and legs to win.
The most anticipated men’s final in years did not fall quite as flat as Nadal did after he had secured the title, but it was no classic encounter.
It was short on rhythm, short on spectacular rallies and, ultimately, short on suspense. Federer misfired on too many backhands, failed to handle Nadal’s left-handed serve and even looked a little weary as he changed ends late in the match.
“I unfortunately did not play the match that I had hoped to play,” Federer said. “I made too many errors, and especially after I won the first set so easily. Usually, I don’t let an opportunity like that escape.” — CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
Nadal d. Federer, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
With clay the color of terra cotta caked on his clothes, Rafael Nadal climbed into the grandstand at Roland Garros to celebrate his third consecutive French Open victory.
High above the court, he reached his family and friends, who then smothered him with hugs. But below at courtside, his opponent, Roger Federer, sat alone.
Federer was frozen and expressionless as the reality of the moment sank in. Once again, he had failed to win the French Open. And once again, Nadal had been the man who stopped him.
In a match anticipated since the start of this tournament, a duel pitting No. 1 versus No. 2, Nadal won, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Federer, the holder of 10 Grand Slam titles, had been hoping to win his first title on the legendary Parisian clay. A victory would have made him the third man to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once. Instead, he had to settle for something he is not used to: second place.
“Well, you can put it any way you want,” the 25-year-old Federer said. “All I know, at the end of the day, is that I’m disappointed today, and I don’t care less about the way I’ve played over the last 10 months or 10 years.
“I wanted to win this match, and I didn’t succeed. So, of course, it’s a bit sad.”
When he addressed the crowd, the 21-year-old Nadal bit his lip, holding back tears.
“I am very happy,” he said. “But I am really sad for Roger. He is a friend, and I know he is a great champion, whether he wins or loses.” — JULIET MACUR
Nadal d. Federer, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0
So what was Roger Federer to do with the elusive French Open trophy once again in sight and Rafael Nadal looming larger than ever across the net?
Stay back and rally? Definitely not. Nadal was too quick, too powerful and too steady, with unforced errors creeping in as rarely as sunshine during this tournament.
Why not attack the net? More sensible indeed, yet Nadal’s dipping passing shots were so precise, so forceful that they kept requiring Federer to dig balls out of the dirt or twist his neck — smoothly, of course — to watch a winner land on the sideline or the baseline.
No, the answer for the millions of Federer fans worldwide who would like nothing better than for their man to win the only Grand Slam singles title he lacks was that there was no solution available to Federer in his current state of form and Nadal’s current state of grace.
In a final that rarely resembled anything other than one-way traffic, Nadal was at his clay-covering, forehand-whipping finest as he won his fourth straight French Open by beating up on the erratic, increasingly dispirited Federer.
The stunning final score — 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 — was the most lopsided result in a major men’s final since John McEnroe also surrendered just four games against Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1984.
“I was walking out worrying about losing; it would have been impossible to imagine it would turn out like this,” Nadal said. “I think I played an almost perfect match, and Roger made more mistakes than usual.”
The victory was the finishing touch on one of the most dominant performances in Grand Slam history. Nadal did not lose a set in the tournament. — CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
Nadal d. Federer, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1
Bjorn Borg could not make it to Roland Garros, which turned out to be a missed opportunity. It would have made for just the right photograph: Borg handing over the Coupe des Mousquetaires to his successor in the soft evening light in Paris.
It has been 30 years since Borg won his sixth and last French Open, and it was possible to imagine then that no other relentless baseliner would be able to match Borg’s domination at the world’s greatest clay-court tournament.
In fact, the man who would manage it had not yet been born. But Rafael Nadal is in the prime of life now, and on Sunday, he reeled in Borg and won his sixth title here by holding off his customary French Open foil: Roger Federer.
“It’s an honor to say that I won as many French Opens as Borg,” Nadal said after his 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 victory. “It’s extraordinary. There is a lot of emotion, but the real satisfaction comes from all the work you do before you get there. There were difficult moments and some very good moments.”
But Federer has been quite a French Open security blanket for Nadal. Their rivalry is one of the greatest in tennis history, yet it has been decidedly short on suspense here.
Nadal is now 5-0 against Federer at Roland Garros. Four of those victories have come in finals, and though this match was a thriller in comparison with Nadal’s 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 victory in 2008, it still ended with Nadal’s imposing his topspin forehand and Federer slumping toward the trophy ceremony with most of the crowd commiserating. — CHRISTOPHER CLAREY