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January 22, 2023

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played their first Roland Garros match in the 2005 semi-finals. Six years later, they fought for the title for the fourth time, and Nadal had to dig deep to defend the Roland Garros crown. The Spaniard clinched a hard-fought 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1 victory in three hours and 40 minutes to secure the sixth Parisian crown in the last seven years and equal Bjorn Borg’s record.

Rafa had to give everything to lift the tenth Major crown over his biggest rival and win the 45th Roland Garros victory in 46 meetings. Nadal played well on clay that spring, conquering Monte Carlo and Barcelona and losing the finals in Madrid and Rome to Novak Djokovic.

Roger delivered Novak’s first defeat of the season in the Roland Garros semi-finals and was eager to score another big scalp in the title clash. Rafa won 13 points more than Roger and was a bit more efficient on serve and return to forge his triumph.

The Spaniard saved ten break points from 15 and stole Roger’s serve eight times to run for the finish line in the fourth set when the Swiss finally lost ground. As always against Nadal on clay, Federer was eager to keep the points on his racket and get Rafa out of his comfort zone while defending his backhand.

It worked well for him for the first three hours. Still, Nadal was there to earn the most critical points and seal the deal in the fourth set when he smashed through Federer’s defense and marched to triumph. Federer had more winners, but he couldn’t avoid a huge number of mistakes, like in most defeats against Rafa.

Nothing could separate them in the shortest points, which was very important for Nadal. On the other hand, Roger won more points than his rival, only to lose the game in mid-range rallies where Rafa had a clear advantage.

Federer broke in the second game of the encounter on his fourth break point when Nadal made a huge forehand error.

Rafael Nadal needed three hours and 40 minutes to beat Roger Federer at Paris 2011.

Roger held at 15 with a smashing winner to open a 3-0 lead and settle into a good rhythm.

The Swiss served well and made another good hold in game seven to move up 5-2, looking good to conquer the opener. Rafa saved a set point on serve in game eight when Roger missed an easy backhand shot, and the Spaniard pulled back in the next game to cut the deficit to 5-4.

Federer lost his temper and broke again at 5-5 to fall behind. Nadal landed a forehand winner in game 12 to bring it home and steal the opener 7-5 in 62 minutes after dropping the last five games. A forehand winner earned Nadal a break early in the second set, and he held the score in game two after a service winner to cement the lead and extend the streak.

Facing another challenge in game five, Federer hit two aces to fend off two break points and fended off another for a big hold that kept him in a break deficit. This became even more important after a loose service game from Rafa at 4-3, hitting a bad backhand to give up serve and bring Roger back into the running.

The Swiss couldn’t use that momentum though, spraying another backhand error in the ninth game to suffer another break. Rafa served for the set at 5-4 but couldn’t hold his nerve, committing a forehand error on set point when the match was suspended due to rain.

The Spaniard squandered another set point on his return, and the Swiss took a break to lock the result at 5-5 and extend his chances. They served well in games 11 and 12 to introduce a tie break. Nadal opened a 6-3 gap and blasted a forehand winner to win two formidable sets after two hours and 15 minutes of grueling tennis.

After five easy holds in the third set, Roger missed an easy forehand to break and walk away from the positive result. Federer bounced back instantly and broke love in game seven after a game-winning shot.

With a boost from his side, Roger broke again in game 11 with a forehand winner and served for the set. Another forehand winner delivered it for him, and the match came after three hours and five minutes of high-quality tennis that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats.

Shaken but not beaten, Rafa took a big step in the opening game of the fourth set. He denied three break points for a crucial hold and moved in front when Roger netted a forehand in the next. After playing level with Rafa for around 200 minutes, Federer had nothing left in the tank.

He dropped serve again in the sixth game and approached the exit door, with Nadal serving for the title in the following game. As a true champion, Rafa fired two winners to create three match points in game seven. He grabbed the former after a colossal forehand error from Federer to lift his sixth title in Paris and join Bjorn Borg on the list of immortals.

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