The matchup the tennis world has been hoping for has come into fruition. After a bout of absences from each side intermittently for the past two years, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will meet in the French Open Final once again.
Roger Federer has a historic record of failure against Rafael Nadal in the French Open dating back to a 2005 Roland Garros meeting in which Nadal dispatched Federer in four sets.
It was the first match between the two in a Grand Slam; the beginning of an epic rivalry which writes its next chapter Sunday, at 3:00 PM in Paris, or 9:00 AM EST and 6:00 AM PST.
16-time Grand Slam Champion and virtual consensus greatest tennis player of all time Roger Federer will face his greatest nemesis in a familiar setting. Federer is 2-6 to Nadal in Grand Slam matches, including 0-4 at Roland Garros.
Even when Federer was at the top of his game for that outstanding stretch from 2005-2008, he was essentially allergic to defeating Nadal at the French Open. Given this past history, do Roger Federer supporters have a shred of hope that their man can win Roland Garros? Call me crazy, but I say yes.
1. Roger Federer is Motivated
It seems strange that the greatest player in the history of tennis would need "motivation" to win a match, but nobody understands better than Roger Federer that defeating Rafael Nadal at this year's French Open will be the nail in the coffin for his (already well-deserved) "Greatest of All Time" legacy.
Although Federer is one of three players to complete the Career Grand Slam, he has yet to defeat Nadal on clay. Expect Federer to come out with the requisite intensity befitting his already staggering legacy.
2. Rafael Nadal is Getting Older
It's insane to suggest that Nadal plays "older" than Federer, but humor me for a moment; we just got through watching a match in which Roger Federer was chasing cross-court forehands from Novak Djokovic with a kind of "balls-out," gambling-heavy footwork that is NOT the mark of a tennis player who turns 30 this summer.
Federer was covering the court like Gary Payton on Kevin Johnson (forgive the cross-sport reference), despite critics pointing out that it might be time for him to leave the sport.
I chalk up Federer's inspiring, youthful performance to the fact that he has played a style that is conducive to a long career in tennis; emphasizing accuracy in his groundstrokes over quickness in court coverage (despite the fact that Federer has had amazing footwork his entire career), and taking excellent care of his body, on-the-court or off.
Rafael Nadal's style is diametrically opposed to this style in the sense that he sacrifices his body for the game. Fans love Nadal's passionate, "take-no-prisoners" style of play; unfortunately Nadal has suffered a smattering of injuries to his feet and knees as a result. As anyone who has played tennis can attest, the soundness of one's knees is of paramount importance.
This is a sport that requires the full support of one's legs, and for someone of Nadal's playing style, even a small loss of mobility could render Nadal vincible to a fully healthy Federer. Nadal is, without argument, aging at a much faster pace than Federer, and this year's French Open Final might be where the rubber finally meets the road.
3. Federer's Service Game is Absolutely Disgusting
If you saw today's wonderful match between Federer and Djokovic, you saw Federer ace the single best returner in the game in Novak Djokovic, 18 times.
Eighteen aces, and countless Djokovic first-returns slapping the net. If Roger Federer can hold his serve the way he did against Djokovic, he most certainly has a chance against Nadal.
So will Federer win against Nadal this year at Roland Garros? I did doubt Federer against Djokovic (although I did write the article predicting Nadal would meet Federer at Roland Garros this year), but while it's far from locked in, Federer should see his second French Open title this year.