Eight years is a long time in sport.
Eight years ago, Manchester United were the best team in England, Rory McIlroy won his first major, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal last met on the clay of Roland Garros.
In a close final, Federer did well but couldn’t stop Nadal from lifting the Coupe de Mousquetaires for the sixth time. Nadal now owns 11 French Opens, while the Swiss has never been back on Philippe Chatrier for finals day.
Both players have morphed into stronger versions of themselves since 2011. We’ll find out this Friday whether the 37-year-old has enough game and confidence to finally beat Nadal for the first time at Roland Garros.
If judged solely on form going into the semi-finals, the 20-time major winner has a chance.
After a four-year break for reasons intended and not, Federer is back at Roland Garros and he looks really good. The 2009 champion did not drop a set en route to the quarters as he beat Lorenzo Sonego, Oscar Otte, Casper Ruud and Leonardo Mayer.
After not facing a player inside the top 50, there was a big step up for the maestro in the last eight.
But, for the majority of their four enthralling sets, Federer muzzled the ferocious power of 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka.
As good as Wawrinka is, Nadal at Roland Garros is a different beast altogether.
The Mallorcan comes to the semis with an all-time match record at Roland Garros of 91-2. For your next tennis quiz, the two men to have beaten Nadal here are Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015).
So far in the 2019 edition, the 11-time champion has been as good as ever.
Apart from the third round where he dropped a set to former top 10 player David Goffin, Nadal has sauntered through to the last four. He only donated five games in a demolition job over an exhausted Kei Nishikori in the quarter finals.
Both players will start the semi-final with energy and confidence after comfortable journeys. With stamina reserves unlikely to be a factor, this match will come down to savvy tactics and shot execution. In recent times, Federer has held the edge here.
While the Mallorcan still holds the advantage in their overall head-to-head (23-15), Basel’s favourite son has won the last five.
Nadal last beat Federer at the 2014 Australian Open. Since then, the pair have played in Basel, Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai with the Swiss triumphant in all. They were due to play at Indian Wells this earlier this year, but Nadal was forced to withdraw with knee pain before the match.
It looks like Federer has finally solved the Nadal puzzle, right?
Not quite. Those five matches took place on hard courts. You have to go back a decade for the last time that Federer beat Nadal on the dirt. Nadal leads their head-to-head on clay 13-2 and has won the last four matches on the surface.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Nadal is the clear and warranted favourite to win this match.
He’s the best men’s clay court player of all-time. The Spaniard is playing very well and he’s never lost to Roger Federer at Roland Garros in five previous matches.
That said, Federer has a chance.
The 20-time major winner is a more complete player than the one that was so often humbled by Nadal in Paris.
Federer’s backhand is stronger now and he is a relentless threat to opponents around the net. I think he’s playing well enough to take a set off Nada,l but it better be the first.
Despite his magnificence on the surface, Nadal can sometimes take a while to find his mojo.
The lefty is most vulnerable in the first set and eight players have been able to nab the opener from him at Roland Garros through the years. Only two of those went on to win, but you stand a far better chance of toppling the Spanish gladiator if you take the lead.
Once Nadal has notched the first set, you’ll have a very hard time snatching the second from his mitts, and when he’s won the first two sets? Sort your taxi.
Federer has a good shout of taking a set from Nadal before losing in four at 12/5. However, if Nadal takes the opener, it could get ugly in a hurry for Mr Federer.
* All prices correct at time of posting.