Federer has been digging deep to find the answers to the seemingly unanswerable questions regarding his matches against the King of Clay.
The variety of tactics Federer has employed against Nadal have all proved to be of no avail, a futile barrage of attacks that Nadal has been virtually immune to.
So what does Federer need to do to overcome his demons against Nadal?
In this article, I am going to talk about nine strategic intricacies Federer needs to hammer on in order to combat Nadal's onslaught.
***As a note, various points are taken DIRECTLY from a previous article I had written before Federer played Nadal at this year's Australian Open.***
1. Win the first set
Prior to this year's Australian Open final, Rafael Nadal had only lost one career grand slam match after capturing the first set, that being in the 2007 US Open Round of 16 where Nadal was taken out by his Spanish compatriot David Ferrer in a shocking four-set match.
In addition, in the 28 matches Federer and Nadal have competed in, the winner of the opening set has come out victorious 20 times.
In two of the four majors last season, Federer blew a two-sets-to-love advantage, thus making the opening set against Nadal that more crucial.
In the 2012 Australian Open, Federer made good on this point. But he also needs to use the knowledge of their history and the crucial nature of the opening set to his advantage, which obviously did not occur at the Australian Open.
While both are incredible front runners, Nadal definitely has the advantage in this category.
2. Capitalize on Break Points
In the 2008 Wimbledon final, Federer was an abysmal 1-of-13 on break points, a key factor resulting in his five set defeat at the hands of Nadal.
Obviously, converting break points is vital in any match, but if Federer fails to capitalize on a high quantity of break points, he is going to start second-guessing himself and see his mental edge significantly diminish.
3. Attack Rafa's Serve
Federer really needs to step in, mainly on the second serve, take the ball early, and look to place Nadal out of position.
This strategy allows Federer to hone in a mechanism by which he can minimize the length of rallies and foster an offensive-based attack, the exact opposite type of game that Nadal wants to play.
4. Effectively place his serves
Serving at a high percentage solves only half the puzzle against Nadal. Federer needs to look to vary up his serves, keeping Nadal off balance and unsuspecting.
In particular, the one serve Federer has to utilize is the spinner out wide on the deuce side. In his match against Nadal in London in 2011, Federer implemented this tactic supremely, which allowed him to open the court for his vicious forehand.
The serve will allow Federer to maintain control on his service games and dictate from the baseline as will be discussed later in this article.
5. Don't cave under pressure
Since the 2009 US Open, Federer, more than ever, has let various matches slip after developing leads. Several examples of this include the 2009 US Open Final against Del Potro, the 2010 US Open Semifinals against Novak Djokovic, and the 2011 US Open Semifinals against Novak Djokovic.
In the 2012 Australian Open, Federer was up a set and a break to Nadal and appeared to have reined in the match. Unfortunately for Federer, he was unable to hold his lead and gave the Nadal the small opening he needed to get back into the match, which proved to be all the difference.
Federer, as I imagine he will, must rid himself of all such thoughts of these previous matches. The past is the past.
6. Stay away from the backhand chip return
The backhand slice or "chip" return as it is commonly deemed is often weak, flaccid shot for Federer especially against an opponent such as Nadal. It more often than not provides Nadal with more than sufficient time to effectively set up for his forehand or run around his backhand.
The slice is a shot that floats and has the potential to sit up and will allow Nadal to step inside the court and develop an aggressive stance. And as we have all seen, the viciousness of Nadal's forehand when given time is nothing short of lethal.
7. Be the aggressor and limit Nadal's access to the backhand
Rafael Nadal has centered the foundation of his clay-court triumphs through the integration of a defensive, grind-oriented style. The Spaniard is able to use his defensive skills in combination with his vicious, topspin-injected ground strokes to push his opponents into uncomfortable positions behind the baseline.
Seeking to limit his opponents' offensive capabilities, Nadal is a master of patiently implementing this specific theory yielding the eventual error or the short ball that he can put away.
Federer needs to prevent Nadal from effectively utilizing this strategy. He can limit Nadal's effectiveness by stepping in and nullifying the heavy topspin Nadal will surely seek to throw at him.
Also, serving a high percentage of first serves will allow Federer to immediately dictate with his forehand and prevent Nadal from having endless access to Federer's weakness on clay, the high backhand.
Nadal's vicious, high-bouncing forehand, injected with almost nearly inconceivable amounts of topspin, has proven itself a demon to the backhand of Roger Federer. This pattern has been an unwavering staple in the strategy of Rafael Nadal.
If people seek to find a single explanation of Nadal's head-to-head record with Federer, I would be inclined to point out Federer's struggles with dealing with these balls creeping up to shoulder level and above on his backhand side.
This specific shot is traditionally tougher to execute for one-handers and often leads to short and defensive balls for their opponents.
Nadal will undoubtedly use this pattern looking to put Federer on the defensive and open up the court for his blistering forehand.
8. Get to net
A fine way of shortening up the length of points is by getting to the net. Whether this happens through the serve and volley or through making a concerted effort to take advantage of short balls, this particular point would definitely assist Federer in his goal of negating Nadal's vicious baseline attack.
In addition, this particular strategy would introduce a distinct level of variation that would keep Nadal on his feet.
And if Nadal gets into a position where he begins to chip, block or reply to Federer's serve with a weak reply, serving and volleying will hold Nadal accountable for his returns, as Federer getting to net would surely allow him to do away with any weak reply.
9. Confidence from 2011 French Open
Despite the fact that Federer lost to Nadal in the finals of the 2011 French Open, it undoubtedly was the most impressive performance Federer had against Nadal at Roland Garros.
It would be wise for Federer to extract the positives from this performance and to tell himself that if he had only played a handful of points differently, he may have been up two sets to love instead of being down by this inescapable margin.
Do I personally believe that if Federer and Nadal square off in this year's French Open that Federer would win?
I would say no. The mental and tactical advantages that Nadal has over Federer at Roland Garros are much for to ask Federer to overcome. But the possibility is there and as they say in poker, all you need is "a chip and a chair."
Federer knows that he has a chance to beat Nadal at the French and if given the opportunity, the Swiss Maestro could very well prove his doubters wrong.