Paris: Roger Federer faces Roland Garros’ ‘Mission Impossible’ Friday when he tries to become just the third man to beat 11-time champion Rafael Nadal on the Paris clay surface.
The great Spaniard has only been defeated twice on the red brick dust in the French capital in 93 matches since his 2005 debut.
Ten years ago Robin Soderling hit winner after winner as the unheralded Swede ended Nadal’s 31-match win streak at the tournament. But it has to be said that Nadal was far from his best that day in 2009.
Nadal, however, was to get his revenge over Soderling in the Roland Garros final in 2010 as he captured his fifth title. He was to win the next four as well, a run which ended in 2015 when Novak Djokovic stunned him in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
That was the last time 33-year-old Nadal lost here although he was forced to withdraw before the third round in 2016 due to a wrist injury.
Federer, playing his first French Open since 2015, has lost all five meetings he has had with Nadal in the tournament. The pair hasn’t met at the tournament since the 2011 final which Nadal won in four sets. Overall, Nadal leads their head-to-head 23-15 and is 13-2 on clay. Their last meeting on clay was in the Rome final in 2013 when Federer managed just four games.
If Federer is to have any hope of a shock victory Friday, then he needs to significantly improve his breakpoint statistics. Currently he stands at 20 out of 55 for the tournament (36%) compared to Nadal’s 31/54 (57% conversion rate).
Despite the weight of history counting against the 20-time Major winner, Federer insisted that Friday’s outcome is not a foregone conclusion.
“Like against any player, there is always a chance. Otherwise nobody will be in the stadium to watch because everybody already knows the result in advance,” said the 37-year-old who at least has the comfort of knowing he has won their last five meetings, albeit on hard courts.
“That’s exactly what everybody believes by facing Rafa. But you never know. He might have a problem. He might be sick,” joked the amiable Swiss. “You might be playing great or for some reason he’s struggling. Maybe there’s incredible wind, rain, 10 rain delays,” added Federer.
The Swiss had taken a two-year break from clay altogether in an attempt to focus on Wimbledon, but returned to the red dirt last month, reaching the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome. He has built on that form in the French capital, losing just one set — the same as Nadal – en route to the last four.
“I’m very happy to play Rafa, because if you want to achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa. And you have to beat the best to be the best,” pointed out Federer.