Rafael Nadal was a player to beat in 2019, securing two Major titles and his fifth year-end no. 1 honor ahead of Novak Djokovic. Rafa scored 58 wins that season and one of the most cherished ones came in the Roland Garros semi-final against his old rival Roger Federer. It was their 14th encounter at Majors (the 15th was just around the corner at Wimbledon), and Rafa earned the tenth victory following a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 triumph in two hours and 25 minutes. Nadal had lost the previous five matches against Federer and was eager to change that on his favorite court, facing Roger in Paris for the first time since the 2011 final. Rafa advanced to his 12th Roland Garros final after hitting 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 seized six out of 16 break opportunities to control the scoreboard, defending superbly and finding an open court from challenging positions to neutralize Roger’s attacks and keep the Swiss outside the comfort zone. The conditions were harsh and windy, especially in the first set, and 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 to leave Federer far behind and advance into the second final in a row after conquering the title in Rome a few weeks earlier. Forging an instant 3-0 advantage, Rafa lost ground a bit before scoring another break at 3-2 when Roger’s forehand landed in the net. The Spaniard completed the opener with a hold in game nine before Roger raised the level at the beginning of the second set to move 2-0 ahead.
Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in the 2019 Roland Garros semi-final in straight sets.
Wasting a game point, Federer got broken in game three after Nadal’s forehand winner, and the Spaniard held after deuce in game eight to remain in front. Rafa broke Roger in the next game from 40-0 down, taking five points in a row and clinching the pivotal break with a volley winner that proved to be the encounter’s crucial moment. Holding at love in game ten, Nadal 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 and solve how to impose his strokes and change the match’s course. Nadal broke in games three and five and sealed the deal with a hold at 5-2 for yet another final in his kingdom, where he would face Dominic Thiem, like in 2018.
“It was great to face Federer at Roland Garros for the first time since 2011 final, although I never felt obligated to win. Before the encounter, I was convinced that I was playing well and felt ready for the clash, stepping on the court with confidence. When someone is certain about his abilities, the pressure naturally fades away. Still, it was a very windy day that complicated the match for both of us. To beat Federer, you have to be at your maximum, and that does not change,” Rafael Nadal said.