Nadal continues clay dominance over Federer to sweep into 12th final
Barty, Vondrousova reach 1st Grand Slam final; Dabrowski falls in mixed doubles
It's rough enough for Roger Federer — well, let's be honest, anyone holding a tennis racket — to try to deal with Rafael Nadal's unflinching excellence on the French Open's red clay.
Mix in a wild wind, and Federer, so great for so long, against anyone else and anywhere else, morphed into merely good. And good, even Federer's brand of good, was not nearly enough Friday.
Nadal made quick work of Federer in their first meeting at Roland Garros since 2011, outperforming his rival 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in air whipping at more than 20 mph (12 kph) to reach his record 12th final in Paris as he pursues his record 12th championship.
This was Federer's most lopsided Grand Slam defeat since he gathered a measly four games in a loss to — guess who? — Nadal in the 2008 French Open title match.
"He makes you feel uncomfortable the way he defends the court and plays on clay. There is nobody who even plays remotely close to him," said Federer, who hadn't entered the tournament since 2015. "I don't even know who I need to go search for, to go practice with somebody who plays like him. I was thinking that during the match."
Nadal has never lost a semifinal at the clay-court major. Never lost a final, either. When told of those facts, Nadal replied, matter-of-factly: "It's incredible, being honest."
He's also never lost to Federer at Roland Garros, improving to 6-0. Overall, Nadal leads their series 24-15. Federer had won their past five meetings, but those were all on hard courts.
It's a whole different task to take on Nadal on clay, in general, and at the French Open, in particular, where he is 92-2 for his career.
WATCH | Nadal cruises past Federer at French Open again:
In Sunday's final, the No. 2-seeded Nadal will play No. 1 Novak Djokovic or No. 4 Dominic Thiem. Their match was suspended for the day because of rain in the third set.
The players split the first two sets — Thiem took the opener 6-2, then Djokovic grabbed the second 6-3 — and Thiem was up a break at 3-1 in the third when action was halted.
This was the first time since 2011 the four top-seeded men were in the Roland Garros semifinals.
Nadal, meanwhile, is bidding for his 18th. Among men, only Federer has more, with 20.
The wind was so unchecked that it knocked a tarp off its moorings behind a baseline. It tossed loose dirt from the court into both players' eyes, so much so that Federer joked it felt as if they were playing in a sandbox. There was also drizzle and temperatures of about 60 degrees (15 Celsius).
Enough to make one wish the retractable roof due to be installed before the 2020 French Open were already in place.
Even Nadal described the conditions as "so hard, so difficult to manage."
"It's just really complicated, you know," Federer said. "So you're trying to see how much can you do — or you cannot do. Are you playing flatter or with more spin? Are you keeping the ball in play? Are you going for stuff?"
With an aggressive, charge-to-the-net style, he had been broken a total of only four times by his first five opponents. But Federer was more hesitant against his nemesis, and Nadal won 6 of 13 return games.
The 37-year-old Federer was serenaded off the court by spectators' chants of his first name. He raised his right arm for a quick wave as he walked away — perhaps for the final time. He missed the tournament in 2016 with a bad back, then skipped the entire clay-court circuit the next two years to prepare for grass and hard courts.
"I surprised myself, maybe, how deep I got in this tournament and how well I actually was able to play throughout," Federer said. "And next year? Just like with any other tournament, I don't know. We'll see what happens."
For Nadal, this was the latest impeccable performance in a recent resurgence. He entered May without a title in 2019, his worst start to a season in 15 years.
But the 33-year-old Spaniard began finding his form at last month's Italian Open, beating Djokovic in that final.
In Paris, Nadal is up to his annual standards.
"He's been playing better and better every week," said Nadal's coach, Carlos Moya, the 1998 French Open champion. "He's been playing well in this moment, which is his main goal: Roland Garros."
One more victory to go for a dozen.
Barty, Vondrousova hold on for wild wins
In the women's semifinals earlier Friday, Ash Barty came back from a set and a break down to end 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova's breakthrough run with a topsy-turvy 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 victory.
The No. 8-seeded Barty, a 23-year-old Australian who took nearly two years off from tennis to play cricket, will face another unseeded teen for the championship Saturday: unseeded 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
"I'm proud of the way I fought and found a way back into that match," Barty said. "It's just been an amazing journey that I've been on. I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow."
Vondrousova also reached her first major title match, eliminating No. 26 Johanna Konta of Britain 7-5, 7-6 (2). Vondrousova has not dropped a set in the tournament and can become the first teenager to win the French Open since Iva Majoli in 1997.
Both matches saw massive swings of momentum, particularly Barty versus Anisimova, the 51st-ranked American who hadn't ceded a set through the quarter-finals.
Barty began as well as possible, racing to a 5-0 lead within 12 minutes by winning 17 of the first 18 points.
"I felt," Barty would say afterward, "like that happened really quickly."
Moments later, with Anisimova serving at 15-40, Barty held two sets points. From there, Anisimova began playing the way she did in her upset Thursday of defending champion Simona Halep — and Barty suddenly lost her way.
Anisimova took six consecutive games, and in the eventual tiebreaker, she collected the last five points. That began a run of 17 points in a row for her en route to a 3-0 lead in the second set. But then it was Barty's turn to change things and she went on a six-game run to force a third set.
There was one last big shift to come. Anisimova was up a break and serving at 2-1 in the third when her coach signaled from the stands that play should be halted because of rain. The chair umpire checked the white lines, though, and determined the match could continue.
Anisimova then got broken there, opening another four-game run for Barty. Even though Barty needed six match points to close things, she did, indeed, finish the job.
Vondrousova, meanwhile, trailed 5-3 in each set but came back each time. Konta wasted three set points in the opener.
Dabrowski falls in mixed doubles final
Canada's Gabriela Dabrowski has lost in the French Open mixed doubles finals for the second year in a row.
In a rematch of last year's final, the Ottawa native and Mate Pavic of Croatia lost 6-1, 7-6 (5) to Latisha Chan of Taiwan and Ivan Dodig of Croatia on Friday.
"I think in all of our matches we kind of started a little bit slowly. So today was no different, unfortunately," Dabrowski said.
"We went up 4-1, playing much better in the second set. But we couldn't keep the momentum, sadly. Because I think we could have won that set. And in a super tiebreaker, anything can happen."
Dabrowski and Pavic, the No. 2 seeds, fell short in their bid for a second Grand Slam title together. Dabrowski was looking for her third career Grand Slam mixed doubles title after winning the 2018 Australian Open with Pavic and the 2017 French Open with Rohan Bopanna of India.
Meanwhile, Canada's Leylah Annie Fernandez has advanced to her second straight Grand Slam girls' singles final.
The 16-year-old from Laval, Que., seeded No. 1, beat Maria Camila Osorio Serrano of Colombia 6-2, 6-4 in a semifinal on Friday.
Fernandez, who lost in the Australian Open final, will face No. 8 seed Emma Navarro of the United States for the French Open title.
With files from The Canadian Press