Nadal’s French Open dominance, explained by Federer

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We took a look at the quotes Roger Federer gave after each of his five French Open losses to Rafael Nadal in advance of their semifinal meeting on Friday.

On Friday, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will face off in the semifinals of the French Open. It will be their sixth meeting on the clay of Roland Garros, and their first since 2011. Nadal’s dominance on clay played a huge part of the duo’s early rivalry, with the French Open being Federer’s elusive title until he finally won it in 2009, when someone else eliminated the King of Clay.

Federer still sits at one French Open title, while possessing 19 Grand Slam titles from the other three combined. He doesn’t need another one to cement his legacy as perhaps the greatest to ever play the men’s game, but obviously he’d love to have it.

But beating Nadal on clay is something Federer has only done twice, and never at Roland Garros. They aren’t meeting in the finals this time around, because they were drawn into the same half of the bracket. But the stakes are just about as high in the semifinal.

When Nadal first beat Federer in the French Open final in 2006, it shocked a lot of people. When he did it again a year later, people were openly talking about Federer never getting the coveted Coupe des Mousquetaires. But what was Federer feeling at the time? Let’s go over what Federer had to say every time he lost to Nadal at the French Open

2005: Nadal beats Federer in the semifinals, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3

This is where it all began. Federer showed some serious flashes in this semifinal, but ultimately was overpowered by Nadal and had little to offer him in the fourth and final set. Federer was still pretty positive at this point, not too worried. He probably felt he had what it takes to beat Nadal, eventually.

“I was bad at the start, good in the middle,and bad at the end. I’m disappointed but I’m not going to trash the locker room. My desire to win here is still massive. I thought I had the keys to beat him but I wasn’t at my best.”

2006: Nadal beats Roger Federer in the final, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(7-4)

The idea of Roger Federer “missing an opportunity” in 2006 is still kind of ridiculous, especially given his level of play that he still maintains today. Federer himself talked about how he would probably hear about this particular loss for years to come.

“I tried, and I cannot do any more than that. Obviously it’s a pity, but life goes on. I’ll probably hear for years that I missed my opportunity, but I have no choice but to accept it. It is still my goal to win here, and once again I got one step closer. Unfortunately on this occasion I did not play the match I wanted to or hoped.”

2007: Nadal beats Federer in the final, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

When Federer lost to Nadal for the third consecutive year, and the second in the final, he was oddly positive about his chances of winning it eventually. He was clearly bummed out, even crestfallen, but he still talked about things as though it were a certainty he’d eventually get there.

“Well, you can put it any way you want. 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. If I would have won today, I would have not many other goals to chase in my career. Eventually, if I get it, the sweeter it’s going to taste. So hopefully I’ll give myself more opportunities, over and over again. I know I can do it now, that’s for sure.”

2008: Nadal beats Federer in the final, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0

This is where Federer seemed to be at his lowest. He was quiet, reserved, almost sheepish in his post-match interview. He seemed embarrassed, even, that he had only managed to win four games in what was an absolute rout. He hadn’t dropped a set at 0-6 since 1999. He had nothing for Nadal that day. Fortunately, his own French Open title would come a year later.

“I would have hoped, of course, to get more today than four games. But Rafa is really very, very strong this year. He dominated this tournament like perhaps never before. Like Bjorn. He deserves this title. It was still a good week. Losing in a final is never easy but I will try again next year. He dominated from the first point until the end. It’s the strongest Rafa that I’ve ever seen. He was more dominant than the previous years.”

2011: Nadal beats Federer in the final, 7-5, 7-6(7-3), 5-7, 6-1

Two years after Federer earned his first and only French Open title, he was in the midst of a strong bid for a second when he ran into Nadal once again. This time, it was a much closer match than the previous couple, and Federer really pushed the Spaniard. But he still came up short in their final French Open meeting until this coming Friday.

And you’ll see that Federer keeps referring to “today” as a concept, because he always believes that there’s another day where he can get the win. But he also is more complimentary, probably because he already had a title at this point.

“I thought he was getting tired in the third and fourth sets but unfortunately I couldn’t take advantage of it. At 0-0 in the fourth set you think we have a match again. We know what can happen in tennis. In the fifth set I would have felt very, very strong. But Rafa played well and he deserved to win today. He plays better against the better ones, and that’s what he showed today. He’s a great champion, on clay, especially.”


And what does Nadal think, going into their first meeting at the French Open since 2011 (and also Federer’s first appearance in the Roland Garros semifinals since 2012)?

“Having Roger in front in the semi-finals is an extra thing. We shared the most important moments of our careers together on court facing each other.

”So it is another episode of this, and I’m happy for that and excited. It will be a special moment.”

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