June 4, 2019
Rafael Nadal will play Roger Federer in the Roland Garros semi-finals.
The dream scenario for many tennis fans has come true.
The King of Clay dismissed Kei Nishikori with such power and poise that he made it look almost as easy as the 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 scoreline suggests.
And remember, Nishikori is a superb player, a top star in his own right and therefore no pushover for anyone.
But Nadal just looks so good again right now that you wonder what dent even the great Federer can make on him.
It wasn’t perfect from Rafa against Kei. There were break points to fight off in the third, as the Japanese underdog tried to dig in for a comeback.
But this was still as convincing a victory as anyone has a right to expect at such an elite level.
What can Federer do to put doubts in the mind of Nadal? He can play the big points well – just as he did against Stan Wawrinka.
That was how Federer took the two key tie-breaks in his 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 victory.
He moved well, he avoided the draining nightmare of a potential fifth set against his compatriot, and he should still have enough left in the tank to give Nadal a decent match.
But let’s face it, almost no one will expect Federer to pull off what would be an almighty shock against a man who has won 91 of 93 Roland Garros matches and all eleven of his semi-finals here so far.
At least Roger has that underdog status on his side. He has nothing to lose, he has already surpassed his own expectations in his first French Open adventure since his comeback.
So it needs to be a free-flowing, free-spirited, audacious and aggressive Federer who takes to the court to face Nadal when the time comes.
That’s how Roger began winning Slams again after six months out injured. He just enjoyed the ride and finished points quickly. He must do so once more.
Naturally that will mean coming to the net as often as possible. Rafa says he is ready for this tactic.
Nadal has revealed he will try to make it too hard for Roger to make those approaches comfortably and effectively.
That way Rafa will be confident he can all but neutralise the Federer volley on clay.
Of course, Roger’s recent big-time wins over Nadal were on hard courts, and it will be so much tougher on the red dirt, where Rafa always holds sway over his rival.
The champion has looked imperious, untouchable on his favourite surface. David Goffin took a set off him a few days ago. But no one has looked like beating Nadal so far.
Still, we have seen this before at Grand Slams. Rafa usually looks unbeatable and then suddenly comes up against a tennis phenomenon such as Novak Djokovic or even Federer himself.
Sometimes rivals play super-smart and find a way to unpick Nadal and halt the Spanish juggernaut against all the odds.
Realistically, it will be Djokovic in the final who will give Nadal the ultimate test.
But tennis is so full of twists and turns. And Federer has been so magnificent for so long. He is hitting the ball cleanly, anticipating well, playing his own aggressive game.
Can Roger rush the net effectively enough to upset Rafa’s baseline rhythm when they go toe to toe? Unlikely on clay. Highly unlikely.
But it will be another glorious viewing experience when we sit down to find out.
By Mark Ryan