It’s the dream matchup we didn’t dare possible before this French Open started, we didn’t think we’d see it again on the dirt of Paris. Tomorrow nights’ semi final between two champions who have pushed each other since they first met in Miami in 2004 will play for the 39thtime. Rafa leads the head to head 23-15, although Federer has won the last five but Rafa leads their French Open matches 5-0. This will be tasty.
Why Rafa will win
History is brutal for this match up on clay, its 13-2 in Rafa’s favor. The reason is high looping topspin to Roger’s backhand, it happens point after point after point and there was nothing Federer could do about it, Rafa’s heavy topspin would eventually force a backhand error or a short ball which Rafa would run around and hit a forehand winner. Federer could also never win enough points on his serve with aces or unreturnables, the formula was that simple. If Federer can’t change this dynamic then Rafa wins, this match is all on Federer’s racquet, we know what Rafa will do, it’s up to Roger to change the clay tactics, history suggests he can’t.
Why Federer will win
There’s a couple of reasons Roger has dominated Rafa since 2017, he switched to a bigger racquet, making the sweet spot a little larger which cut down on the groundstroke errors, Federer also with the advice of new coach Ivan Ljubicic refused to retreat from the baseline, watch the Australian Open final of 2017, he took a page from Andre Agassi and played the rallies closer to the baseline, I’m sure he was tired of getting pushed around, he started hitting the backhand with more bite as well. All this works well on a faster surface, which cuts down Rafa’s reaction time, the question is can it work on clay, expect Roger to serve and volley, hit some drop shots and do whatever it takes to keep the points short, the longer the rally goes the more chance Rafa will boss him around, if Federer redlines his game for long stretches he’ll win.
The Centre Court in Paris is Rafa’s house; he has dominated there for so long it must be his most comfortable court in the world. The one wildcard in all of this would be the possibility that after five straight losses to Federer that Rafa is mentally bruised; I can’t see it happening on Rafa’s favorite court but there is that possibility.
The key here is the first set, if Roger wins it then it’s definitely game on and it will give him extra confidence but if Rafa wins it then all the past French Open beatings could come flooding back for Federer. The court just doesn’t seem to be playing quick enough for Roger to get the free points on his serve, which he craves against Rafa. A blow out is possible but I see Federer winning a set so I’ll pick Rafa in 4 sets.