June 7, 2019
Rafael Nadal saw off Roger Federer in straight sets. But he will have to play even better if he is to win his twelfth Roland Garros.
There were flashes of brilliance from both stars, without this contest ever turning into a true classic.
In the end, the 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 scoreline was a fair reflection of the difference between the two men on the day.
Federer’s forehand misfired too often and his work at the net was often surprisingly tame.
You need to be super-aggressive to beat Rafa. On this occasion, Roger wasn’t.
He seemed a little out of sorts and the conditions may well have had much to do with that.
It was windy and cold. Federer wasn’t in his element.
For all that, he did manage to break Nadal in each of the first two sets.
And he will regret the toothless smash that allowed Rafa the platform to break back when 0-2 down in the second.
It could have been so very different had Federer consolidated further and leveled at one set all.
Then his self-belief might have begun to shine through.
So this wasn’t Rafa on fire, unbeatable, almost superhuman on clay. He was vulnerable, even though he successfully fought off all the significant threats posed by his illustrious rival.
Once two sets behind, however, it looked as though Federer knew he couldn’t win. The third was a formality as Nadal broke at will and raised his level, finally free of pressure.
It may seem harsh, given that the Spaniard did exactly what needed to be done and won the first set with a glorious cross-court backhand.
But Nadal will know himself that he will need to find something more than this if he is to defeat Novak Djokovic or Dominic Thiem in the final.
Rafa wasn’t at his bullying best and he may not have enjoyed the conditions any more than Roger did.
However, he adapted better, looked hungrier, and should have plenty left in the tank for the showpiece.
As for Federer, he always knew that Wimbledon would provide his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection.
Wimbledon will likely be sunnier and warmer. And of course he will be playing on his beloved grass.
Expect a very different Federer at the home of tennis in a few weeks’ time.
By Mark Ryan