Tennis

Roger Federer bids to solve the Rafael Nadal puzzle

Epic semi-final clash tomorrow could reveal some answers, says Swiss maestro

Roger Federer has never solved the riddle of playing Rafael Nadal at the French Open, but still believes he can find the answer when the pair clash for the 39th time in tomorrow's semi-final.

The Swiss has suffered five French Open defeats by the marauding Mallorcan, four in finals and once in the 2005 semi-final when Nadal burst through as teenager to win the first of his 11 titles on the Parisian clay.

The last time Federer beat Nadal anywhere on clay was in Madrid in 2009 - one of only two times he has got the better of him on the Spaniard's favourite surface.

"I knew that when I signed up for the clay that hopefully that's gonna happen (play against Nadal)," Federer, 37, told reporters after his 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka on Tuesday.

"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.

"You just never know. He might have a problem. He might be sick. You never know. You might be playing great or for some reason he's struggling.

"That's why you need to put yourself in that position. Now I have the match with Rafa, and I'm clearly excited.

"I hope I can recover well in the next couple days, which I'm sure I will, and I'll give it my best shot on Friday."

Nadal, 33, thrashed Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 to claim his 91st win at Roland Garros, against just two defeats.

"It's a great satisfaction to be in another semi-final, there are lots of emotions," said Nadal.

"My level has been very good throughout the tournament and I am happy to be able to come back and play another day."

Federer has played superbly on his first appearance at the French Open since 2015 and, crucially, he has avoided having any marathon battles on route to face Nadal.

The Swiss had taken a two-year break from clay in an attempt to focus on Wimbledon.

He returned to the red dirt last month, reaching the quarter-finals in Madrid and Rome.

He has built on that form in the French capital, losing just one set - the same as 11-time champion Nadal - en route to the last four.

TARGET

He is now targeting only his second Roland Garros crown, after taking advantage of Nadal's shock loss to Robin Soderling to win the 2009 title.

Federer, trailing their head-to-head record on clay 13-2 - and 23-15 behind overall - will need another level or two against the left-handed Nadal.

But he has won their last five matches, including in the 2017 Australian Open final when he claimed his first Grand Slam title for five years.

He is relishing the challenge though, having not played Nadal at the French Open since 2011 when he lost in four sets.

"I'm looking forward to the test," he said.

"The complete dream would be to win the tournament...

"It will be difficult, but I believe it anyway." - REUTERS, AFP

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