Defending champion Rafael Nadal powered past Roger Federer in the French Open semi-finals on Friday, to move within one victory of a record-extending 12th Roland Garros title after handing his oldest rival his worst Grand Slam defeat in 11 years.
The 33-year-old produced a masterful performance to get past Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the last four on Court Philippe Chatrier and set up a final clash with either world number one Novak Djokovic or Austrian fourth seed Dominic Thiem on Sunday.
It will be Nadal’s 12th appearance in the championship match, which he has never lost before.
“It’s incredible to play with Roger here,” said Nadal.
“Congratulations to him — to be at his level at 37, it’s incredible. I say thank you to the Parisian fans, because it’s magnificent for me to be in another final.
“It’s always a pleasure to play with him. It’s always a difficult match against him.”
The third seed now has an stunning 92-2 win-loss record on the Paris clay, having beaten Federer for the sixth time in as many French Open meetings despite difficult, windy conditions.
Nadal also leads his overall head-to-head against Federer 24-15, and 14-2 on clay after ending a run of five straights losses to the 37-year-old.
A tally of just nine games meant it was Federer’s heaviest defeat in a Grand Slam match since managing only four against Nadal in their famously one-sided 2008 Roland Garros final.
Nadal made only 19 unforced errors, crushing 33 winners as Federer struck 25, although that amount could easily have been doubled against any opponent other than the 11-time champion.
The defeat leaves Federer still waiting for a first victory over Nadal on clay since 2009 in Madrid.
A topsy-turvy start saw the Spaniard race through the first three games before Federer broke back as the wind played havoc with the players’ serves from one end.
But Nadal grabbed a 4-2 advantage in a marathon sixth game as Federer, looking to become the oldest Grand Slam finalist since Ken Rosewall at the 1974 US Open, dumped a forehand into the net.
The crowd were roaring on Federer as he saved a set point, but gasped in appreciation of a rasping Nadal backhand winner which clinched the opening set.
The Swiss turned on the style to take the first two games of the second set, only to be broken straight back as Nadal curled a trademark forehand up the line.
Federer was throwing everything he had at Nadal, but the indomitable left-hander was simply too strong.
The key moments came towards the end of the second set, when second seed Nadal managed to hold under severe pressure to level at 4-4, before putting the pedal down to break despite having trailed 40-0.
The defending champion confidently served out the set to love to move one step closer to the final, where he will look to lift the trophy for a third successive year.
Federer’s chances were slipping away quickly, and he received a warning after angrily hitting the ball into the upper reaches of Philippe Chatrier after a flick off the net chord helped Nadal break in game three of the third set.
Another break in Federer’s next service game effectively signalled the end of the contest, and Nadal wrapped up an impressive victory as his rival fired a return long.
Barty, Vondrousova to meet in final
Ashleigh Barty and Marketa Vondrousova set-up a Roland Garros final showdown on Friday, shrugging off a sexism row which had seen their semi-finals shifted away from the tournament’s showpiece court.
Barty, 23, reached her first final at the majors, coming back from a set and 0-3 down to defeat 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-3 in a rollercoaster semi-final.
Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova also made sure of her place in a maiden final at the Slams by edging out Britain’s Johanna Konta 7-5, 7-6 (7/2).
Vondrousova, 19, is the first teenager to reach a major final in 10 years since Caroline Wozniacki at the 2009 US Open and the first at Roland Garros in 12 years.
Saturday’s final will be the youngest final at a Slam since the 2008 Roland Garros championship match when 20-year-old Ana Ivanovic defeated Dinara Safina, 22.
Eighth seed Barty is the first Australian in a French Open final since Samantha Stosur finished runner-up in 2010.
“That was amazing, both good and bad,” said Barty who will rise to the top three in the rankings next week.
‘Hardest thing I’ve done’
“It was the hardest thing that I ever had to do.
“I am really proud of the way I fought especially in the conditions which were cold and windy.”
Both semi-finals got underway after accusations of sexism were made against French Open organisers who had decided to shift the matches away from the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier.
The main arena had already been scheduled to stage the men’s semi-finals between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic against Dominic Thiem.
The WTA said the decision, taken after Wednesday’s play was washed out and prompted by fears of more rain Friday, was “unfair and inappropriate”.
Former world number one Amelie Mauresmo of France said it was a “disgrace”.
Barty, 23, raced into a 4-0 lead with successive breaks as Anisimova, plagued with nerves, managed just one point.
The 17-year-old saved two set points in the sixth game to finally get on the board and retrieved a break for 2-5.
She broke twice again for 6-5 but faltered when she served for the set before securing the tiebreak.
Anisimova then led 3-0 in the second set, with Barty failing to win a point.
However, in a perfect capsule of the unpredictable semi-final, played out in front of a half-full Court Suzanne Lenglen, Barty claimed the next six games to level the tie.
The Australian, who once famously took a break from tennis to pursue a cricket career, even recovered from a break at 1-2 down in the decider.
She eventually held her nerve as Anisimova, bidding to become the youngest finalist in Paris since Martina Hingis in 1997, fell apart despite gamely saving five match points.
“I mean, I was kind of, like, frozen and I couldn’t really get into my game,” said Anismova of her wretched start although she has the consolation of knowing she’ll be in the top 30 next week.
Over on a damp and windy Court Simonne Mathieu, world number 38 Vondrousova battled past 26th seed Konta who was bidding to become Britain’s first female French Open finalist since Sue Barker won the 1976 title.
When she steps onto Chatrier on Saturday, it will be Vondrousova’s first experience of the arena.
“I watched (compatriot) Lucie Safarova when she played finals there in 2015 when I was junior, but I never played there. So it’s going to be something huge,” she said.
Konta looked the stronger player for large periods of the match but a staggering 41 unforced errors proved costly.
The match was played in an atmosphere more associated with first-round ties rather than semi-finals — in front of a smattering of spectators on the 5,000-capacity arena.
“The way it looks probably speaks for itself more than anything,” said Konta after the match in reference to the court.
Konta made a quick start as Vondrousova struggled with the wind and her nerves on serve — the Briton forging 5-3 ahead.
But the 28-year-old stuttered with a one-set lead in sight, missing three set points and then being broken when serving for the opener.
Vondrousova took full advantage, reeling off four straight games to make Konta pay.
Konta gathered herself, though, and took total control of the second set with an early break, moving 5-3 in front again.
But she tightened up once more when the pressure was on, dropping serve when one game from forcing a decider in a downpour of errors.
With light rain falling on Roland Garros, Vondrousova sealed victory by racing through the tie-break and into the final.