The match of the tournament

Built like a boxer rather than a tennis player, Rafael Nadal is listed at 74kg in the annual ATP Tour media guide but actually weighs nearly 86kg.

Just a growing boy, the Mallorcan says his muscular physique isn’t the result of any secret Mediterranean diet.

“I eat just normally,” Nadal says. “If you give me olives, I eat olives. Yesterday I ate Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
I don’t have anything out of the ordinary.”

On Friday, the French Open will determine whether olives and ice cream are the recipe for beating Roger Federer.

Nadal and Federer meet in a semifinal showdown touted as the match of the tournament, if not the year. It features the game’s top two players in peak form: Federer, entrenched at number one and bidding to complete a career Grand Slam at age 23; and Nadal, the teen sensation who has won five tournaments this year and emerged as the biggest threat to Federer’s reign.

“This is a match where I’d like to have fun,” said Nadal, who turns 19 on Friday. “I think I might be able to win. At least that’s what I’m going to go for.”

The other semifinal features two first-time Grand Slam semifinalists: unseeded Argentine Mariano Puerta and number 12 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia.

Puerta, back on the tour following a nine-month doping suspension, advanced on Wednesday by beating compatriot Guillermo Canas 6-2, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Davydenko edged number 15 Tommy Robredo 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Federer-Nadal is a rematch of the final in Key Biscayne, when Nadal took the first two sets, led 4-1 in the third and was twice two points from victory before Federer rallied to win.

“In the end, I felt I was the fitter player,” Federer said. “He looked extremely tired in the fifth, and that kind of surprised me.”

Maybe it was the Haagen-Dazs. But that final took place two months ago on a hardcourt, and Nadal has since won 22 consecutive matches, all on clay.

The slow, slick surface supposedly gives an attacking player like Federer the most trouble, and a clay championship is the lone gap in his Grand Slam resume. Andre Agassi is the only active man to win all four major titles.

“That would be definitely a dream come true,” Federer said. “At 23, it would be quite something.”

He smiled and added, “I’m not quite there yet, so just relax.”

The reigning Wimbledon and United States Open champion has shown this spring that he can play on clay. He has won 28 consecutive sets on the surface, including 15 in Paris.

That’s a big improvement from 2002-04, when Federer won just two of five matches at Roland Garros, twice losing in the opening round.

“I think it’s purely the experience, the big matches, the big occasions I’ve faced,” he said. “It’s just overall believing more in my game—not only my clay-court game, my game in total.”

Many regard the number four-seeded Nadal as the favourite, even though he’s playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal. The left-hander has delighted crowds at Roland Garros with his charisma, creativity and athleticism.

In the quarterfinals against David Ferrer, he brought fans to their feet by whipping a running forehand winner down the line into the corner—an improbable shot reminiscent of Pete Sampras. Later in the same game, Nadal hit virtually the same shot again, this time braking to avoid tumbling into the first row of seats.

Federer’s game is less flashy but more stylish. He already has drawn comparisons to the game’s greatest players, and he’s intent on doing what Sampras, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker never did: win the French Open.

“He has been playing very well,” Nadal said. “He hasn’t lost a single set, has he? Well, we’ll go for him.” - Sapa-AP

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