Roger Federer waited 11 years for that elusive French Open title, and then one more to make his feelings about the Grand Slam, the surface and its greatest exponent known.

“On clay you don’t need to have a volley. You almost don’t need to have a serve. All you need to have is legs, an incredible forehand and backhand and to run things down,” Federer told The Independent in 2010. “I’m not trying to take anything away from Rafa, because he’s an exception and he did everything on other surfaces as well, but I think you can get away with having problems with your game on clay more than you can on other surfaces.”

Federer, who has won 11 clay court titles out of a total 101, further clarified: “I don’t think my problem was clay, even though there were lots of people who said that clay wasn’t my best surface… My problem, of course, was Rafa.”Now, back at Roland Garros for a sixth date with Nadal, the 37-year-old goes into Friday’s semifinal an underdog with a 2-13 head-to-head record on clay. A French Open semifinal is where the heir apparent ran into a bullish 19-year-old in 2005, but a lot has changed since then. Firstly, since switching to a larger racquet in 2014, Federer drives through Nadal’s serve with topspin instead of slicing it back and kicking it up high. Federer has won the last six meetings, his last defeat coming on clay at 2013 Rome Open

 

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