Paris. David Ferrer says he is ready to face the toughest challenge in world tennis — going up against Rafael Nadal on the claycourts of Roland Garros at the French Open.
The player they call “The Bulldozer” because of his relentless and attritional style has played 19 times against his fellow Spaniard and he has lost 15 of them.
Oddly for two such claycourt stalwarts, only once previously have they met at Roland Garros and that was in 2005 when Nadal made his debut in Paris and won comfortably 7-5, 6-2, 6-0 before going on to win his first Grand Slam title.
In fact the only time that Ferrer, who at 30 is four years older than Nadal, has beat him on clay was in their very first meeting in Stuttgart in 2004 and even that took three tough sets to get the job done.
The hard facts make grim reading for the hopes of Ferrer ahead of Friday’s semi-final.
Nadal’s straight sets victory over another Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro, in the quarter-finals brought up his 50th win at Roland Garros against just the one defeat — to Swede Robin Soderling in the 2009 fourth round.
On top of that, Nadal has added motivation this year as a win on Sunday would make him the first man to win seven French Open titles, snapping a tie with Swedish legend Bjorn Borg.
It would also be his 11th Grand Slam title, putting him level with Borg and Rod Laver.
Ferrer, through to his first semi-final here, insists that defeat for him is not inevitable.
“Yes, Rafa is always difficult to play. Even more so on clay,” he said.
“But as I said and I will say again — I will try and play a beautiful match, my best tennis. I have great ambitions, and I’m quite certain this is going to be a very physical match.”
The two have met twice on clay in the buildup to Paris, in Rome and Barcelona, with Nadal winning both in straight sets, but Ferrer came agonisingly close to taking the first set in the Italian capital before ceding in a tie-break. He then lost the second set 6-0.
That, he says, is the problem against Nadal — he never, ever lets up.
“In Rome it was different, because I had opportunities to win a set, but he played extremely well,” he said.
“I think you can win a set against Rafa, but there is a difference between winning a set and winning a match.
“Winning a match against Rafa is almost impossible. He is in such good shape.”
Nadal, who has yet to drop a set this year at Roland Garros, is full of praise for his Davis Cup partner and close friend.
“His game bothers everybody because he’s one of the best players in the world on every surface, on clay especially,” he said.
“He’s a complete player. It’s very difficult to play against him, because his movements are probably the best of the world, and he’s able to hit the ball very early a lot of the times.
“It will be a very tough match.”
Friday’s other semi-final is a repeat of last year with top seed Novak Djokovic going up against third seed Roger Federer.
Neither player has ever beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.