It was deja vu for Roger Federer as his return to Roland Garros ended in another claycourt defeat to Rafael Nadal.
The 39th meeting between the two men was played in exceptionally windy conditions, with Nadal handling them better to claim a 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory and reach a 12th final.
The poor weather saw the second semifinal between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem suspended with the Austrian leading 6-2 3-6 3-1.
Friday was the first time Nadal and Federer had met at the French Open since 2011 and this match went the same way as their other previous five.
“He makes you feel uncomfortable the way he defends the court and plays on clay,” said the Swiss.
“There is nobody who even plays remotely close to him,. I don’t even know who I need to go search for to go practice with somebody who plays like him.
Just listen to this standing ovation from the French fans ????????
— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) June 7, 2019
“It’s just amazing how he plays from deep and then is able to bounce back and forth from the baseline.”
Federer insisted he had been looking forward to the challenge after deciding earlier this year to return to a tournament he had not played since 2015.
The 37-year-old had turned the momentum of their rivalry around with five straight wins, all on hard courts, and had been in fine form this tournament, but this would quickly have felt familiar.
Not that any of their previous encounters were in conditions quite like this because while the threatened rain held off, the wind sent the ball swirling off course off both men’s rackets and whipped the clay into their eyes.
“You get to a point where you’re just happy to make shots and not look ridiculous,” said Federer. “It’s that bad.
“But it was windy for both. He was better, no doubt about it. I had maybe mini chances today but they were not big enough to win.”
The second set was central to Federer’s hopes. His tactic of drop-shotting into the wind was an effective one, and he broke serve to lead 2-0 only for Nadal to immediately break back.
Nadal then broke his opponent again from 40-0 in the ninth game before serving out for a two-sets-to-love lead.
Federer received a warning for ball abuse when he angrily smashed one into the crowd after being broken again in the third game of the third set, and from there the end was swift.
Despite the disappointment, Federer rated his return to Roland Garros as a success, saying: “I thought it was a great tournament. I really enjoyed it.
“The 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.
“In terms of playing, I think I played really well. I think I surprised myself maybe how deep I got in this tournament.”
Asked if he would be back next year, the 37-year-old, who left the court to a chorus of ‘Roger, Roger’, added: “Just like with any other tournament, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 7, 2019
“But I definitely enjoyed the claycourt season and the French Open, so that would help the chances, I guess. It’s not like it’s been a shocker.”
Nadal improved his record against the Swiss to 24 wins and 15 losses as he closes in on an 18th grand-slam title.
“The conditions out there today have been so hard, so difficult to manage,” he said.
“It was the day to just focus, accept all the adversities, and just be focused on the positive all the time. That’s what I tried to do.”
Of his rivalry with Federer, the Spaniard, who has never lost a semi-final or final here, added: “I hope we will both have more years to come and a great future ahead of us. Of course, we won’t be here in 10 years’ time.
“I have won a very important victory in my eyes. For the tournament and for Federer, the fact that Federer is back on clay and competitive again, it’s something important.
“And I think that he will go away with good sensations because he fought very well to win Roland Garros.”
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