Nadal shocks Federer at French Open
Pouncing from the breezy start, bouncing at the dusky end, Rafael Nadal turned his 19th birthday into a milestone triumph over Roger Federer in a French Open semifinals that confirmed the Spanish prodigy's arrival as a star on the Grand Slam stage.
Moments before the fading twilight threatened to suspend the match, Nadal asserted his irrepressible will and his uncanny combination of speed, strength and creativity to reach the final of his first French Open with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory Friday that ended Federer's bid to complete a career Grand Slam.
"It's incredible to beat Federer," said Nadal, who avenged a five-set loss to him at Key Biscayne, Fla., two months ago, extended his winning streak to 23 matches and moved within one victory of becoming the first player to win the French Open in his debut since Mats Wilander in 1982. "Winning a semifinal is already incredible, and beating Federer is even more amazing."
"I started bad and finished bad," Federer said. "I was good in the middle, but that was not good enough."
They had walked out on court with different demeanors, Nadal unsmiling and intense, Federer relaxed and waving, the crowd giving both an ovation as they settled in for what promised to be the match of the tournament. The fans would not be disappointed.
Federer's vulnerability quickly became apparent when he whacked a forehand 10 feet long and committed two more unforced errors for a break in that first game. Mishitting an unusual number of shots, Federer couldn't tame his forehand or make much use of his generally superior serve. He suffered three breaks to lose the set and saw the end of his streak of 28 straight sets won over the past 11 matches going back to the tuneup in Hamburg.
It was now nearly 8 p.m. and, with no lights at Roland Garros, it was apparent that the match might have to be suspended if it went five sets. A fifth set probably would not even be started after 9 p.m.
Racing to beat the fading light and Federer, Nadal closed out the third set at 8:40 p.m. when he broke Federer in the final game.
Nadal jogged out for what would be the last game of the set, holding a 5-4 lead, while Federer walked to the service line with a distinct weariness about him. On the third set point, Nadal grunted loudly with a forehand down the line, took Federer's forehand response and belted an unreachable forehand back into an open court. Nadal bellowed in triumph, leaping and punching the air with his left fist.
Nadal's eagerness didn't stop him from making a magnanimous gesture of sportsmanship even when he was down a break at 2-1 in the fourth set. With Federer serving at 40-15, a shot by the Swiss was called long. Nadal pointed to the spot, indicated the ball was good, and asked the umpire to replay the point. They did and Federer won it to go ahead 3-1, but that would be the last game he would win.
Nadal charged back relentlessly to take a 4-3 lead. At 9:02 p.m., the court completely in shadows even with a play blue sky in the distance, Federer spoke to the umpire about how difficult it was to see.
"I could hardly see the ball in the end," said Federer, the 23-year-old holder of four major titles. "I am disappointed we continued. ... I wished we could have continued tomorrow."
Instead, Federer went out to serve. He won the first point after a brilliant exchange at the net that ended with his third reflex volley. But Federer wound up dropping the game when he mishit a backhand eight feet wide, and followed that with a loud cry ¡ª "AAARGH!" ¡ª that could be understood in any language.
That gave Nadal a chance to serve out the match, and he wasted little time in doing it. He set up match point with an overhead, then watched Federer's final shot float long.
Nadal dropped to the court and lay flat on his back a few moments before bounding up and jogging to the net. The best player in the game and his heir apparent embraced warmly.
"I said, `I'm sorry for you,'" Nadal said. "He said, 'No, no, you played very well. Good luck for the final. Good luck for the future.'"