Upstart Nadal teaches Federer French lesson

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The Independent Online

The kid beat the maestro in the match everyone had waited for here at the French Open. Rafael Nadal advanced to the final at his first attempt, defeating Roger Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. The fourth-seeded Spaniard will play the unseeded Mariano Puerta, of Argentina, ranked 37th, in tomorrow's final.

The kid beat the maestro in the match everyone had waited for here at the French Open. Rafael Nadal advanced to the final at his first attempt, defeating Roger Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. The fourth-seeded Spaniard will play the unseeded Mariano Puerta, of Argentina, ranked 37th, in tomorrow's final.

Nadal became only the third player to find a way past Federer this year, following Marat Safin, of Russia, in the semi-finals at the Australian Open, and Richard Gasquet, of France, at the Monte Carlo Masters.

Although there were lots of errors on both sides, frequently caused by the pressure exerted by the man at the other end, the match lived up to its billing as a mighty struggle between the world No 1 and the latest prodigy in the men's game.

"I started badly and finished badly and played good in the middle," Federer said. "My disappointment is obvious, but I'm not going destroy the locker room or leave tennis."

Nadal, showing all the exuberance of youth on his 19th birthday, put Federer on the back foot immediately, breaking in the first game of the opening set and again for 4-1. Federer made a break of his own in the sixth game but quickly lost his rhythm, Nadal breaking the Swiss again in the ninth game to take the set.

The second set was a reverse of the first. The only difference was that play was held up by rain - but only for two minutes. Nadal managed to save two break points in the opening game but was broken for 2-1 and again for 4-1. Federer held to love for 5-1 but Nadal broke back to 3-5 and held for 4-5, but Federer served out for the set with ease.

Nadal tested Federer with his deep spinning forehand, though sometimes fell short on the backhand. Federer would have liked to have approached the net to volley more often but was wary of his opponent's flashing passing shots. Nadal held his nerves in check during the concluding sets, winning the third by breaking Federer in the 10th game.

The question now was whether the light would hold, particularly if Federer managed to level the match at two apiece. Federer did not give up the fight easily, breaking Nadal for 2-1 but the latter broke back for 3-3 and proceeded to win the concluding three games as if reaching the final of a Grand Slam was a matter of routine.

"He deserved his victory," admitted Federer. "I wish we could have come back and finished the match tomorrow. I could hardly see the ball in the end. But it's too late now."

Nadal was thrilled with his achievement but agreed with Federer to some extent. "The light wasn't the best, and if he had won the fourth set I'm sure we would have stopped and come back tomorrow," he said. "I prepared well for the match and played my best tennis. My best birthday present is that my family is here to watch me."

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