Federer fired by Nadal phenomenon

World No 1 is 'excited' by the emergence of his brilliant shadow and anticipates thrilling rivalry

When Roger Federer turned up to talk about his chances of winning what would be his fourth consecutive Grand Slam, it was disconcerting for the great man to be seated beneath a gigantic picture of Rafael Nadal, the reigning champion of Roland Garros and the man fancied by every bookmaker (at odds on, moreover) to extend his domination over the world's greatest racket exponent by lifting the trophy again.

Federer will today kick-start his campaign to add the French to the Wimbledon, US and Australian titles he has annexed over the past 10 months when he faces a local hero, Arnaud Clement, the first time Roland Garros has moved forward 24 hours from a Monday start. But it was inevitably Nadal who was on his mind, though he dismissed their confrontations as a rivalry, explaining the results had been too one-sided (Nadal leads 5-1).

"I think maybe it's getting there slowly," said Federer. "We still haven't played enough yet, and a rivalry needs a win and a loss, a win and a loss. That's not what's been really going on, he's been winning the last few. Though [Nadal] has only been on the tour for a couple of years, it's heading into a very nice direction for tennis by having a player like him. For me, once again it's an exciting time."

Federer was cut down by the Nadal combine harvester in last year's Roland Garros semi-finals, since when he has not been able to close the gap on an opponent who spent the winter rehabilitating a foot injury yet who has sprung into the clay-court season like a demented flamenco dancer.

Though not a topical, trendy metatarsal, Nadal's problem had its origin in a stress fracture in 2004. Then last autumn he damaged the tendon and muscles around the old stress injury. Now he plays with remedial inserts in shoes specially made for him by Nike. Specially labelled, too, with "Vamos" ("Let's go") on the left heel and his name on the right. Nadal has been vamos-ing through the clay season, winning consecutive tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, where he survived two match points against Federer in a five-hour classic.

For the moment, his English does not come near matching the excellence of his tennis, but in both fields he tries, he really does. Pointing out that Federer is the world No 1, while he is only No 2, Nadal explained his continuing success thus: "I am positive always, no? I am very good attitude always. I always play my 100 per cent. I fight always. Every match, every ball. I don't have a lot of mistakes. And maybe in clay that's important, no?"

Tomorrow's first round against the Swede, Robin Soderling, should see Nadal shatter the record of consecutive clay-court victories which he currently shares with Guillermo Vilas on 53. But, charmingly, he stressed that records were not paramount in his thinking. "I'm going to be trying my best, not for the record, for Roland Garros." So Federer, and everyone else, knows the direction the exciting young Spaniard is pointing.

The draw was not kind to Federer, landing him in the same quarter as David Nalbandian, someone else who is capable of giving him a hard time, especially on clay. If the Argentinian avoids ambush before the last eight and if Federer overcomes him, a Swiss-Spanish final looks certain, since there appears no one capable of giving those "Vamos" shoes an extended run.

In nine of the past 10 years, the Coupe Mousquetaires has been hoisted by Latins, either from Spain or South America. The exception was 1999, when Andre Agassi completed his full set of Slam crowns. Sadly, the Bald One is absent because of ongoing sciatica worries, allegedly keeping his powder dry, and his hip free of pain, in readiness for one last charge at Wimbledon.

So the American battalion will be led into battle by James Blake, someone who has known, and continues to know, what it takes to play tennis in pain. So well has the popular New Yorker done this season that he is seeded eighth here, and it is bleak news for Andy Murray that, should he get past his keenly anticipated first round against his French teen counterpart Gaël Monfils (known as Sliderman in these parts), he would probably run up against Blake, though the American would need first to see off another Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro, not far behind Nadal in the vroom-vroom stakes.

Still, the cheery news for Murray is that this time a year ago he was competing in the junior event. And after this he will move on to the scene of 2005 triumphs at Queen's and Wimbledon.

The other Britons, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, should not be long in heading for the grass, either. After two winnable rounds, Henman - a semi-finalist here in 2004 - would run into Nalbandian, while Rusedski's fate, if successful in the first round, would be to clash with the Croatian Mario Ancic, who is formidable on any surface.

There are, without doubt, lurkers in the French field who can upset even the best clay people - the 6ft 10in Ivo Karlovic, whose serve can be hidden in low cloud; that mighty Chilean forehand smiter Fernando Gonzalez; Marat Safin if he stirs his stumps; Andy Roddick if his ailing ankle is better; Ivan Ljubicic on any favourable day. But it is hard to look beyond Nadal v Federer a fortnight today.

KING OF CLAY: ANATOMY OF A TENNIS POWERHOUSE WHO SIMPLY NEVER STOPS RUNNING

Heart

Not since the heyday of Jimmy Connors has tennis seen someone who fights for every point with such ferocity, which is why clay and its sliding qualities suit Nadal's style perfectly.

Muscles

The physical build-up has been going on since Nadal opted for tennis over football aged 12. It is directed by his uncle Miguel Angel Nadal, Barcelona's former hard-man defender.

Hands

A right-hander who was advised to switch arms to strengthen the left side of his body, Nadal has extra backhand power since it is his "natural" hitting action.

Legs

The crucial "engine" of every tennis player. Nadal's rigorous training programme ensures that he is one of the game's most durable runners and finest movers.

Feet

The source of Nadal's only fitness worries. Following a stress fracture in 2004, he damaged a tendon near the old injury last autumn and now wears shoes with special inserts.

Suggested Topics
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried