Rafael Nadal reaches 12th French Open final and hails Federer as 'probably the best player in history'
Rafael Nadal hails Roger Federer as "probably the best player in history" after Spaniard beats his Swiss rival to reach his 12th French Open final.
The match, a 39th meeting between the two men, was played in exceptionally windy conditions at Roland Garros but Federer was unable to blow the defending champion off course.
After two tight sets, Nadal turned the screw to win 6-3 6-4 6-2 and add another victory to the five previous ones he had over Federer on the Paris clay.
Federer insisted he was looking forward to the challenge having decided this year to return to a tournament he had not played since 2015.
The 37-year-old had turned the momentum of their rivalry around with five straight wins, all on hard courts, and had been in fine form this tournament, but this would quickly have felt awfully familiar.
Not that any of their previous encounters were in conditions quite like this. While the threatened rain held off, the wind sent the ball swirling off course off both men's rackets and whipped the clay into their eyes.
The second set was central to Federer's hopes. His tactic of drop-shotting into the wind was an effective one, and he broke serve to lead 2-0 only to lose serve himself straight away.
Nadal then broke his opponent from 40-0 in the ninth game before serving out for a two-sets-to-love lead.
Federer received a warning for ball abuse when he angrily smashed one into the crowd after being broken again in the third game of the third set, and from there the end was swift.
Nadal improved his record against the Swiss to 24 wins and 15 losses and will face either Novak Djokovic or Dominic Thiem as he chases an 18th grand-slam title.
"I don't find any sparring partners... playing like Federer. There are no two people like Federer on this planet. Luckily, actually," Nadal said. "It's incredible, congratulations to Roger... incredible to play at that level aged 37.
"He's probably the best player in history, it's a great pleasure to play with him.
"Him and me know each other. We played many times against each other. But these are matches where we can always find this small plus, this additional shot.
"And when I play against Roger, I always expect the best from him."
The wind barely dropped all match with both players buffeted throughout, and rubbing grit from their eyes from time to time.
It hardly made for exceptional tennis, but both men pulled off breathtaking shots worthy of their status as two of the sport's greats.
"It is true that today was a little bit too much," Nadal said. "So difficult to control the situation and understand the things that were going on on court. But I think my personal feeling is I played a great match with those conditions."
While the conditions were tough for both men, as Federer wistfully reflected, the gusts probably knocked the wind out of his game more than Nadal's.
"It was incredibly windy," Federer said. "So you're trying to see how much can you do or can you not do? Are you playing flatter or with more spin? Are you keeping the ball in play? Are you going for stuff? I think that was basically the story of the first set, more or less.
"Holding serve against the wind with Rafa's quality on the return is just really hard, you know? He barely misses any. And then when he's in the rally, he plays with great spin on the forehand, great sort of control on the backhand side.
"So it's just really hard to find holes, especially in the wind, if you're trying to hit through the ball, which is really difficult, actually."
He continued: "It was just crazy. No excuses, but it was crazy.
"I don't think I played poorly in the wind today. It's just it's tough on clay. You know, you've got to try to take on the half volleys, too, all that stuff. It just adds to the equation. He's the best clay court player, so I can accept that. It's not a problem."