Tennis

Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer in three sets to reach French Open final

AP, AFP-JIJI

Rafael Nadal made quick work of Roger Federer in their first French Open meeting since 2011, beating his rival 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 Friday in strong wind to reach his 12th final at Roland Garros.

Nadal has never lost a semifinal at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament. Never lost a final, either.

And he’s never lost to Federer in Paris, improving to 6-0. Overall, Nadal leads their series 24-15. Federer had won their past five meetings, but those were all on hard courts.

It’s a whole different task to take on Nadal on clay, in general, and at the French Open, in particular, where his one victory away from a 12th championship, which would be more than any man or woman has won at any of the Grand Slam tournaments.

“It’s incredible to play with Roger here,” said Nadal.

“Congratulations to him — to be at his level at 37, it’s incredible. I say thank you to the Parisian fans, because it’s magnificent for me to be in another final.

“It’s always a pleasure to play with him. It’s always a difficult match against him.”

In Sunday’s final, the No. 2-seeded Nadal will take on either No. 1 Novak Djokovic or No. 4 Dominic Thiem.

This was the first time since 2011 the four top-seeded men were in the semifinals at Roland Garros.

Like so many times before, it was Nadal’s topspin-heavy lefty forehand, his relentless ball-chasing and his return game that gave Federer fits.

Frustrated the guy so much that the generally stoic Federer smacked a tennis ball toward the stands after getting broken to trail 2-1 in the third set.

It would soon be over.

Federer, who was playing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015, hadn’t lost a set through five victories over the past two weeks. With an aggressive, head-to-the-net style, he had been broken a total of only four times by those opponents.

Nadal easily exceeded that in a span of three sets across less than 2½ hours, winning 6 of 13 return games.

The 37-year-old Federer, whose 20 Grand Slam titles are a record for a man, was serenaded off the court by spectators’ chants of his first name. He raised his right arm for a quick wave as he walked away — perhaps for the final time. He missed the tournament in 2016 with a bad back, then skipped it the next two years to prepare for grass and hard courts.

He looked quite good in his return, until running into his old nemesis.

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