Story lines to watch:
[You can watch the match on NBCSN or Tennis Channel.]
Why everyone is so excited about this match.
Other tennis players have faced each other more, but there is no rivalry in the sport like Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal. Federer, the 37-year-old right-hander from Switzerland, has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a record for men. Nadal, the 33-year-old left-hander from Spain, is second with 17. Their contrast in styles, their classic matches, their camaraderie have divided fan bases and electrified their sport since they first played 15 years ago.
Who knows how many more times they will square off on the Grand Slam stage? Friday’s meeting will be their 39th career match, but their first in about 18 months. They have not faced one another at Roland Garros in eight years.
Rafael Nadal is on roll after a rough patch.
Nadal has won 11 French Opens, so it is not a surprise to see him in the semifinals at Roland Garros. But according to his coach, Carlos Moyá, Nadal hit a low point in March after he had to withdraw from his semifinal against Federer at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., because of a recurrence of knee tendinitis.
Moya told The Times’ Christopher Clarey that it took several weeks for Nadal to recover his optimism. When the tour moved to Europe for the clay-court season, a time when Nadal usually rakes up titles, he kept losing in the semifinals.
“It wasn’t about the errors; it was the attitude,” Moyá said. “It’s something you do not often see in him: negativity.”
But after “lots of team discussions and a few heart-to-hearts,” Moyá said, Nadal won the Italian Open, his first title of the year. He is on a 10-match winning streak.
[Read more from Christopher Clarey’s interview with Carlos Moyá.]
Rafael Nadal owns Roger Federer at Roland Garros.
Nadal has lost their last five meetings and has not defeated Federer at a major since the 2014 Australian Open. But they haven’t played each other on clay — where Nadal is king — since May 2013.
Nadal holds a 23-15 head-to-head edge over Federer, largely because of his 13-2 mark on clay. Federer has never beaten him at the French Open in five tries, and has won only four of the 19 sets they have played at Roland Garros. Nadal’s 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 destruction of Federer in 2008 was one of the most lopsided major men’s finals in history.
And, by the way, Nadal has never lost a semifinal to anyone at the French Open.
So, yeah, Federer is the underdog.
Roger Federer hasn’t played the French Open in four years.
Of Federer’s 20 Grand Slam titles, only one came at Roland Garros, in 2009, and he didn’t have to beat Nadal to do it. Nadal had lost in the fourth round to Robin Soderling, whom Federer defeated in the final.
Nadal has been a constant roadblock for Federer on clay, but despite that, Federer has the third-best winning percentage on the surface among active players.
It’s easy to forget that when fans have not seen Federer playing on clay very often of late. He pulled out of the 2016 French Open before it started because of an injury and he hadn’t been back until this year. He skipped the clay-court season entirely the past three years to preserve his body and prepare for his favorite surface: grass.
“I feel now I can play pressure free, because what is there to lose? Nothing really,” Federer told Christopher Clarey before his clay season began. “I haven’t played on clay for three years so maybe for the first time in 15 years I can go to the French and be like, ‘Let’s just see what happens.’ And maybe that’s exactly what is going to make a beautiful result. And if it’s not, no problem.”