Federer braced for rejuvenated Nadal onslaught
Roger Federer will confront one of his biggest challenges when a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal, written off as an injury-cursed, spent-force earlier this year, attempts to reclaim his French Open title.sports Updated: May 20, 2010 13:43 IST
Roger Federer will confront one of his biggest challenges when a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal, written off as an injury-cursed, spent-force earlier this year, attempts to reclaim his French Open title.
World number one Federer, the holder of a record 16 majors and widely-regarded as the greatest player of all time, completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2009 with a first Paris title.
But Nadal, who had won four straight French Opens, had lost in the fourth round, his crumbling knees conspiring with Robin Soderling's match of a lifetime to sensationally engineer a first Roland Garros defeat.
Federer, defeated by his great Spanish rival in the 2006, 2007 and 2008 finals, stormed into the power vacuum to take the crown.
Critics, however, claimed it was a victory by default leaving the world number one, despite all his achievements, with a point to prove in 2010.
The statistics make uncomfortable reading for the Swiss. Nadal holds a staggering 14-7 lead in career meetings with Federer, having won six of the last seven match-ups.
The Spanish world number two has claimed 10 of their 12 claycourt meetings, including reclaiming his Madrid Masters title last weekend.
But 28-year-old Federer insists he is neither concerned by Nadal's record nor his own patchy claycourt form where his run to the Madrid final was preceded by a second round exit in Rome and a semi-final loss in Estoril.
"The claycourt season will not be judged here, but in Paris," said Federer after his 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) defeat to Nadal in Madrid.
"We will see what happens. I feel I'm ready for Paris."
The 23-year-old Nadal's form this spring has been breathtaking. His win in Madrid gave him a record 18th Masters title, surpassing the previous mark of Andre Agassi, and making him the first man to win all three Masters claycourt events (Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid) in the same year.
His form has also allowed him to regain the world number two spot, ensuring that the only way he and Federer can meet in Paris is in the final.
Nadal is desperate to prove he is once again a genuine Grand Slam force, having been unable to defend his Wimbledon title last year while limping out of Janaury's Australian Open quarter-final against Andy Murray.
"I'm only motivated by tournaments, being ranked number two means nothing to me," he said.
"My aim is to be at my best in each tournament, both technically and physically. I've been at my best throughout the season and this has been a great satisfaction for me after all the work."
"I'm almost 24 (June 3) and I trust I'll be able to play many more matches and win many more tournaments. You never know when it will all end."
Between them, Federer and Nadal have won 18 of the last 20 Grand Slam events. That staggering statistic, coupled with an injury-depleted and under-cooked chasing pack, should guarantee a fourth Federer-Nadal final in five years. World number three Novak Djokovic, twice a semi-finalist, skipped Madrid after suffering an allergic reaction in Belgrade, the latest health scare for the Serbian whose fragile physical condition has prompted regular dismay.
Murray, who made the semi-final in 2009, has slipped back to world number four after a promising start to 2010 which saw him reach the Australian Open final.
The Scotsman's best claycourt effort this year was a last-eight appearance in Madrid. Missing from the tournament will be Russia's Nikolay Davydenko and US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina.
World number six Davydenko, a semi-finalist in 2005 and 2007, has not played since mid-March because of a wrist problem while Del Potro has a similar, but more worrying injury.
The giant 21-year-old hasn't played since making the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.
Federer was given a major scare by the Argentine in 2009 when he had to come back from two sets to one down to make the final.