Nadal is 5-0 versus Federer at Roland Garros, but Roger has won his last five matches against Rafa.

This will be the 39th meeting between Nadal and Federer, but the more important number to consider is five. In a sense, it will be a battle of the fives, and who you believe will be the winner will depend on which five you think is more important.

Nadal is 5-0 versus Federer at Roland Garros. They met in the final in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011, and in the semifinals in 2005. Four of those matches were competitive, and went four sets; one, the 2008 final, was blowout city. In general, Federer has pushed Nadal on this court, but hasn’t seriously threatened him.

Still, the most recent of those matches came in 2011. The rivalry has evolved since then, and that’s where the second five comes in.

Federer is 5-0 in his last five meetings with Nadal. The first of those wins came in 2015, but the turnaround really began in the 2017 Australian Open final, when Federer finally changed the dynamic and grabbed the upper hand in their rallies. Rather than allowing himself to be pushed around on his backhand side by Rafa’s topspin forehand, Federer moved forward and slapped that shot for winners. He kept doing it through their next three meetings, all of which came in 2017, and all of which Federer won in straight sets.

Swiss Roger Federer (L) poses with Spanish Rafael Nadal (R) at the Roland Garros, 02 June 2005 in Paris. Federer and Nadal will play tomorrow their semi-final match of the tennis French open.

But there was something else those matches had in common: they were all played on hard courts. This is the first time that Federer will bring his upgraded backhand to a match with Rafa on clay. Will it work as well? It might. At the start of 2017, few people would have predicted that Federer would go on a long win streak, on any surface, against Nadal, who led their head to head 23-11 at the time. So it’s plausible that Federer can do it on clay as well. He has beaten Nadal twice on dirt in the past (against 13 losses).

Aside from his improved backhand, Federer may also bring a new tactic to this oldest of ATP rivalries: serve and volley. He has used it sparingly, perhaps too sparingly, against Rafa over the years, but it helped him get over the hump against Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Federer, seeing Wawrinka standing well back in the court, had success sending slow kick serves out to his backhand side, which gave him time to drape himself over the net. Will that work on Friday? Nadal also stands well back in the court, but those same serves would end up going to his forehand—probably not a recipe for sustained success. If he’s planning to come in, Federer may have to switch it up and try to swing his serves out to Rafa’s backhand on the deuce side. But just as Federer has shored up his one-hander in recent years, Nadal has done the same with his two-hander.

There are reasons to like Federer’s chances. The question in the end may be how fully he believes in them against Nadal here. Getting off to a good start is important for every player in every match, but it would seem to be especially crucial for Federer’s confidence in this one. And when I say a good start, I mean winning the first two sets, not just the opening one. Once Nadal begins to grind him down, and takes a lead, Federer could start reliving the memories—and nightmares—of those five French Opens past.

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