The conditions were the trickiest they’ve had to contend with over the course of their 39-match rivalry. Rafael Nadal traded in a baggy top and pirate pants for a form-fitting shirt and short shorts. Roger Federer switched out Nike’s swoosh for Uniqlo’s bilingual box. Fans inside Court Phillipe Chatrier sat on new, beige seats; fans at home recorded this match on DVR instead of VHS.
Otherwise, nothing changed whatsoever since the first time Roger and Rafa met in the French Open semifinals, 14 years ago.
If anything, the gulf between the Swiss and the Spaniard has widened on clay. That could be expected given that Federer is approaching 38—but if that’s true, shouldn’t Nadal’s proficiency on the surface be waning? We’ve yet to see it at Roland Garros, where on Sunday, Nadal will play for a mind-boggling 12th title after his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Federer.
Reaction from James Blake, Chanda Rubin and Jon Wertheim in Paris:
The one-time French Open champion didn’t play poorly for much of this early-afternoon contest. After falling behind 3-0 right away, Federer got the break back, though he wasn’t able to consolidate it. The same can be said about the second set, which Federer led 2-0 and had a game point. But from that point on, the Nadal we’ve known since 2005—the man who is now 92-2 at Roland Garros and 24-15 against Federer, including a 11-4 record against him at Slams—re-asserted his authority.
"I think the biggest regret is to get broken at 2-Love with the wind in my back," said Federer. "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, you know. He barely misses any."
Nadal's forehand was even more challenging for Federer to handle in the swirling wind, and his cross-court backhand was devastating on crucial points. The most significant may have come with Federer serving at 4-3, 30-30 in the second set, after an excellent forehand and approach. Problem was, Nadal’s backhand pass was pristine.
Later that game, at deuce, Nadal struck a pick-up stab forehand winner, reminding me of a similar shot Rafa struck against Federer in the 2009 Australian Open final.
“This is a joke,” Tennis Channel’s Jim Courier said about Nadal’s peerless play, once the 33-year-old earned complete control of the match in the third set. He should have said it on that point.
Federer won just four games in the 2008 French Open final against Nadal, and before this tournament, he hadn’t played at Roland Garros since 2005. Nothing more could have been expected from Federer during this fortnight, and in this match.
"I thought it was a great tournament," said Federer. "I really enjoyed it. Crowd support couldn't have been better. Maybe one of the best ever in my entire 20-year career that I have been on tour at a Slam."
And given his pedigree, nothing less was expected from Nadal.
Roger Federer's post-match press conference: