Rafael Nadal: ‘I never felt obligated against Roger Federer’

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played in four Roland Garros finals between 2006 and 2011. The Spaniard conquered them all to reign supreme at his beloved Major. Eight years after the previous encounter, Rafa and Roger met in Paris again in the 2019 semi-final, stopping the clock and prolonging their incredible rivalry at Majors. Nadal earned 58 victories that season, and one of the most cherished ones came against Federer at Roland Garros, beating the Swiss 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in two hours and 25 minutes for a place in his 12th final in Paris. Losing the previous five encounters against Roger and seeking the first victory since the Australian Open 2014, Nadal was determined to outplay a great rival and extend his Parisian dominance.

The Spaniard secured the 92nd triumph from 94 matches at his favorite tournament and remained on the title course. Rafa hit 33 winners and 19 unforced errors, facing four break chances and getting broken only twice to mount the pressure on the other side. Roger needed much more than that to challenge the greatest clay courter in his first semi-final in Paris since 2012, firing 25 winners and 34 errors. The Spaniard converted six out of 16 break opportunities to control the scoreboard. He defended superbly and found an open court from challenging positions to neutralize Roger’s attacks and keep the Swiss outside his comfort zone.

The conditions were harsh and windy, especially in the first set, when they both struggled to find the rhythm and impose their shots. Things improved from set number two, and Nadal took the upper hand from the closing stages. The Spaniard played well on serve and return and left Roger far behind to advance into his second straight final after conquering the Rome title a few weeks earlier. Rafa lost the advantage in the middle of the first set before scoring another break at 3-2 when Roger’s forehand landed into the net.

Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in the 2019 Roland Garros semi-final.

The Spaniard completed the opener with a hold in game nine, looking good on the court and hoping for more in set number two. Roger raised his level at the start of the second set to forge a 2-0 lead and earn a game point in the third. The Swiss failed to take it and got broken after Nadal’s forehand winner. With momentum on his side, Rafa held after deuce in game eight and never looked back. He broke Roger in the next one from 40-0 down, taking five straight points and clinching the pivotal break with a volley winner that proved to be the crucial moment of the entire encounter. Nadal held at love in game ten and moved two sets to love up after an hour and 45 minutes, determined to get the job done in the third. Federer had nothing more left in the tank, unable to end Nadal’s streak, impose his strokes and change the course of the match. Rafa broke in games three and five and sealed the deal with a hold at 5-2 for yet another final in his kingdom.

“It was great to face Federer at Roland Garros for the first time since that 2011 final, although I never felt obligated to win. Before the encounter, I was convinced I was playing well and ready for the clash. I stepped on the court with confidence, which always helps. When someone is certain about his abilities, the pressure naturally fades away. Still, we must remember it was a very windy day that complicated the match. To beat Federer, you always have to be at your maximum,” Rafael Nadal said.