Rafael Nadal has had Roger Federer’s number on clay throughout their legendary ATP Head2Head series, winning 14 of their 16 meetings on the surface. Nowhere has the Spaniard been more superior on clay than at Roland Garros, where the lefty has won all six of their clashes.
Nadal has won 18 of his 22 sets at the clay-court major against one of his greatest rivals. Despite the record, Federer never shied away from the challenge, saying before the 2019 semi-finals: “I’m very happy to play Rafa… Because if you want to do or achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa, because he’s that strong and he will be there.”
Roger & Rafa: Every Match Ever Played
ATPTour.com relives all six of their meetings at Roland Garros:
2019 Roland Garros semi-finals, Paris, clay, Nadal d. Federer 63 64 62
Nadal and Federer met at a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2017 Australian Open final, in which Federer rallied from down a break in the fifth set to triumph. Nadal, at this point an 11-time Roland Garros champion, was once again the tournament favourite leading into their semi-final showdown, which was their first meeting at the clay-court Slam in eight years.
Federer was competing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015, and he had done well in his return to the tournament. The Swiss won his first four matches in straight sets before dismissing 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in four. He had nothing to lose against Nadal.
But the second seed was ruthless in tough weather conditions, dismissing Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in two hours and 25 minutes to move to 6-0 in their Roland Garros series. The 2009 champion struggled to find his range from the baseline, frequently mis-hitting balls early in the match to set the tone. Nadal did well to keep Federer pushed back, landing his heavy topspin strokes close to the baseline to prevent the Swiss from stepping into the court and finding his timing.
“The conditions out there today [were] so hard, so [it was] difficult to manage,” said Nadal, who went on to beat Dominic Thiem for his 12th Roland Garros title. “It was a day to just focus, accept all the adversity, and just be focused on [being] positive all the time. That’s what I tried to do.”
2011 Roland Garros final, Paris, clay, Nadal d. Federer 75 76(3) 57 61
Nadal and Federer contested a Grand Slam final for the eighth time when they met in the Roland Garros final, and it was Nadal who prevailed as he finished strongly to end Federer’s bid for a second title at the clay-court major in three hours and 40 minutes. The Spaniard had also beaten Federer in the Roland Garros final from 2006-2008.
Having ended Novak Djokovic’s 41-match unbeaten run in 2011 in the semi-finals, Federer hoped his top form would be enough to dethrone Nadal in Paris and made a strong start as he raced to a 5-2 lead. The Swiss squandered a set point chance in the eighth game, though, and it sparked the Nadal comeback as the Spaniard reeled off five straight games to take the opener.
Nadal capitalised on his momentum to break early in the second set, and was serving for the set at 5-4, deuce, when a heavy shower suspended play for 10 minutes. Upon resumption Federer broke back, but Nadal regained his composure in the tie-break to take a commanding two-set lead.
The top-seeded Nadal broke through in the sixth game of the third set, but had no chance to build on his lead as the resilient Federer immediately struck back with a service break to love. The Swiss then delighted the Court Philippe-Chatrier crowd, and stunned Nadal, as he won four of the next five games to claw his way back into the match.
The key stage in the fourth set came in the opening game as Federer squandered a 0/40 opportunity on Nadal’s serve. From there the tide swiftly turned in Nadal’s favour as he broke serve twice, dominating the baseline rallies as he raced through to claim victory.
2008 Roland Garros final, Paris, clay, Nadal d. Federer 61 63 60
After contesting closely fought battles in the finals of Monte-Carlo and Hamburg in the lead up to Roland Garros, much was expected when Roger Federer stepped up to face Rafael Nadal in their 17th career meeting. However the match proved to be the most one-sided encounter between the pair.
Nadal enjoyed the better start in the match, breaking Federer’s serve in the first game courtesy of one of an eventual 49 unforced errors from the Swiss’ racquet. From there, Nadal did not look back and went on to break the Federer serve twice more to seal the set 6-1 as Federer drifted a forehand volley long.
After fighting back from an early break down in the second set, Federer had the chance to gain a key break though when presented with a break point chance in the seventh game. However, he was denied and, after failing to take his opportunities, the Swiss No. 1 was immediately under pressure and conceded his own serve as another backhand pass from Nadal was just out of his reach. Nadal was quick to extend his lead, closing out the set 6-3 as Federer returned serve long.
The third set lasted just 27 minutes as Nadal broke serve three times to secure the match victory after just one hour and 48 minutes, and hand Federer his first bagel set since June 1999, as the Swiss fired a forehand long, prompting muted celebrations from Nadal after the comfortable win.
2007 Roland Garros final, Paris, clay, Nadal d Federer 63 46 63 64
The stakes were higher than ever when Federer and Nadal clashed in the 2007 Roland Garros final. For the second consecutive year Federer was attempting to become just the sixth man in history to win all four Grand Slam titles and to be just the third man to hold all four majors at the same time. Nadal was looking to join Bjorn Borg as the only player to win three consecutive Roland Garros crowns.
Earlier in the clay swing, Nadal had beaten Federer in the Monte-Carlo final but Federer avenged that defeat with his first clay court victory over Nadal in the Hamburg final.
Federer took the fight to Nadal early, earning 10 break point chances over three consecutive Nadal service games in the first set. But the tough Spaniard refused to buckle and scrapped to win the first set. Although Federer rebounded to win the second set, Nadal’s ability to fight off 16 of 17 break point opportunities in the match proved the telling factor.
Federer returned more aggressively – particularly on the backhand – to try to stop Nadal from controlling points, but, as in past meetings, the Spaniard’s high kicking left-handed forehands into his backhand were too much for Federer to handle.
2006 Roland Garros final, Paris, clay, Nadal d. Federer 16 61 64 76(4)
Playing in his first Roland Garros title match, Federer was attempting to become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four straight Grand Slam events, and just the third player in history to achieve the feat.
Nadal was looking to become the youngest player to defend the Roland Garros title since Bjorn Borg in 1974-75. The Spaniard also was trying to improve his perfect record at Roland Garros to 14-0, his clay court winning streak to 60 matches and to notch his 100th career clay court win.
Federer broke Nadal twice in the first set to race to a 5-0 lead. But then Nadal began to dominate the match with his crushing forehand and Federer struggled with many unforced backhand errors.
Nadal did not drop serve again until he tried to close out the match at 5-4 in the fourth set. But he clinched the match soon after in the tie-break. Nadal won his 14th consecutive final (second only in the Open Era to Federer’s mark of 24 straight finals won).
2005 Roland Garros semi-final, Paris, clay, Nadal d. Federer 63 46 64 63
Theirs was the most eagerly awaited match of the tournament. Federer was already No. 1 in the world and fast-rising Nadal was at No. 5.
Nadal came to Roland Garros on the heels of clay-court titles in Monte-Carlo in April (d. Coria) and in Rome in May (d. Coria again). Federer, meanwhile, was fresh off of his second straight clay-court crown in Hamburg in May (d. Gasquet).
Federer evened the score by winning the second set, but after that his form fell as the wet and dark conditions set in. Nadal kept the pressure on, ousting Federer in four sets on the way to winning the Roland Garros title on debut (d. Puerta in the final).