After two years off clay, and three away from the French Open, Roger Federer reached his goal without yet lifting a trophy. A semifinal match with Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
“If I came back to play on clay,” Federer said after beating Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, “I came back to play Rafa.”
Federer and Nadal will play for the 39th time on Friday (NBC, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app French Open semifinals coverage begins at 11 a.m. across all time zones).
Federer owns a personal-best five-match win streak in the rivalry (last meeting in 2017), but he’s 2-13 against Nadal on clay and 0-5 at the French Open. Nadal, an 11-time French Open champ, has the 23-15 edge overall.
“What I will do is try to do my best, so that the victories I have won on this surface against him count for something,” Nadal said after routing Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in a quarterfinal that started and finished during Federer’s 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over Wawrinka. “And he will do his utmost to make sure that his latest victories against me have their weight. And so we’ll see.”
Federer, a 37-year-old with a male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, missed the 2016 French Open with a back injury, then skipped the entire clay-court seasons in 2017 and 2018. Main reasons: rest, recovery and to extend his career. It did. After going four straight years without a major title, Federer won three between 2017 and 2018.
He returned to clay this spring and had moderate results, reaching the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome. After arriving in Paris, he said he felt similar to when he came back from a knee injury to play the Australian Open in 2017. Which he won.
“I feel like I’m playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch?” Federer said on the eve of the French Open, which he won for the one and only time 10 years ago. “I’m not sure if it’s in my racket.”
Well, Federer didn’t drop a set in his first four matches in Paris. Wawrinka, who knocked out Federer en route to the 2015 French Open title, was Federer’s first formidable opponent. Perhaps Federer could have finished him off before a 75-minute rain delay if he had converted more than two of 18 break points.
“I exceeded my expectations here,” said Federer, into his first French semifinal since 2012. “I’m very happy to play Rafa, because if you want to do or achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa.”
Nadal, 91-2 all-time at the French, also dropped one set in his first five matches. He entered the tournament as a slight favorite over top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the likely Sunday final opponent for Federer or Nadal.
“Of course after having Roger in front in the semifinals is an extra thing,” Nadal said. “We shared the most important moments of our careers together on court facing each other. So is another episode of this, and happy for that and excited, no? Will be special moment, and let’s try to be ready for it.”
In Tuesday’s women’s quarterfinals, No. 7 Sloane Stephens was upset by No. 26 Jo Konta of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-4.
Konta, a former world No. 4, had been winless in four previous French Open appearances. Now she’s into her third Grand Slam semifinal and first since 2017 Wimbledon. She is the first British woman to reach the semifinals in Paris since Jo Durie in 1983.
Czech Marketa Vondrousova, a 19-year-old ranked No. 38, awaits in Thursday’s semis.
(1) Novak Djokovic – (5) Alexander Zverev (Wednesday)
(4) Dominic Thiem – (10) Karen Khachanov (Wednesday)
(3) Roger Federer def. (24) Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4
(2) Rafael Nadal def. (7) Kei Nishikori, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3
(8) Ashleigh Barty – (14) Madison Keys (Wednesday)
(3) Simona Halep – Amanda Anisimova (Wednesday)
(26) Jo Konta def. (7) Sloane Stephens, 6-1, 6-4
Marketa Vondrousova def. (31) Petra Martic, 7-6 (1), 7-5
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk