“The experience of Rome helped me in some way because I was able to take a look at the match,” Nadal said after Friday’s semifinal, which lasted three hours and nine minutes. “To analyze the things that worked well and things that, of course, didn’t work.” He added, “We tried to go on court with a plan, with the right determination.”
Nadal, if he prevails in the final, will have won 100 matches at the French Open.
But for once, the focus will not be on Nadal’s running total at Roland Garros. It will be on his pursuit of Federer’s Grand Slam singles record.
Federer, 39, has not played since February because of two knee surgeries, and he does not plan to return to competition until 2021. Federer won his 20th major title at the 2018 Australian Open, but Nadal has steadily narrowed the gap since then — winning the French Open twice more and the United States Open in 2019 to bring his total to 19.
Nadal, true to character, has downplayed the chase.
“I am happy with who I am,” he said, tapping his chest with an index finger, in an interview with The New York Times earlier this year. “I was very happy with 16, very happy with 17, very happy with 18, very happy with 19, and if one day I get to 20, I will be very happy, too. But my level of happiness is not going to change because of this. Do I make myself clear?”
When pressed, he has acknowledged that he is not immune to the lure of the history books. But he has always been more interested in looking forward to the next point, the next match, the next challenge than looking back at all the castles he has built on the clay and elsewhere.
It is his not-so-secret weapon — that deep focus on process over destination.
“It’s important to go through all the process,” he said Friday. “You have to suffer. You can’t pretend to be in a final of Roland Garros without suffering.”
Though he was the reigning champion at the U.S. Open, he decided not to play in New York this year and remained at home in Majorca, Spain, where he trained on clay at his eponymous academy. He believed that the trip to the United States might wear him down for the abbreviated clay-court season, with the French Open starting just two weeks after the men’s U.S. Open final.