By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Rafael Nadal is braced for an all-out assault from Roger Federer when the two great rivals meet at Roland Garros for the first time in eight years in Friday’s French Open semi-final.
Although Federer has won the last five meetings in their 38-match rivalry, none of them were on the Spaniard’s beloved clay.
In their five previous meetings at Roland Garros, including four finals, Federer has never managed more than one set.
Despite being generally regarded as the greatest player of all time, 20-times Grand Slam champion Federer has never fathomed a way of suppressing the marauding Mallorcan at Roland Garros.
Nadal, bidding for a record-extending 12 titles, believes the Swiss will be coming at him with all guns blazing after a comfortable passage to the last four.
“There are no two matches the same,” Real Madrid fan Nadal told reporters as he looked ahead to tennis’s El Clasico.
“We always try things. Let’s see. Let’s see what’s going on.
I really expect that he’s gonna play aggressive, changing rhythms, going to the net. That’s my feeling.
“He’s playing well and he has the tennis to make that happen. I have to be solid. I have to hit the ball enough strong to don’t allow him to do the things from good positions.”
Federer, bidding to win the title for the second time, 10 years after he beat Robin Soderling to claim his sole French Open crown, has only dropped one set on his return to Roland Garros, having missed the last three French Opens.
Nadal has been equally dominant and obliterated Kei Nishikori with an awesome show of force in the quarter-finals.
With only two wins from their previous 15 claycourt meeting Federer knows he must bring something different to the party and says he will adopt a “fearless” approach to try to get the better of his Roland Garros nemesis.
Should he manage it, it would be arguably one of the greatest feats of his sensational career.
“For me to even get to Rafa was not simple,” Federer, at nearly 38 the oldest men’s Grand Slam semi-finalist for 28 years, said after defeating countryman Stan Wawrinka on Tuesday.
“It took five me five matches to get here. That’s why 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, because he’s that strong.
“I knew that when I signed up for the clay that hopefully that’s gonna happen.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)