Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Carlos Moya and "Uncle Toni" Nadal lounging side-by-side waiting for the rain to pass would not be out of the ordinary in the context of a Spanish Davis Cup tie.
But at Roland Garros, only hours before Nadal and Ferrer are due to square off for a semi-final berth? That gives it an altogether different context and an indication of the camaraderie and respect between the two.
When the pair finally did make it onto Suzanne Lenglen Court, the friendship had to be cast aside. This was business and Nadal had a ninth Roland Garros semi-final to reach; the world No.1 running out a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 victor under fading light.
Ferrer, the perennial Spanish No.2, had that 21-6 head-to-head record working against him, but would draw confidence he had claimed their most recent showdown on clay in Monte Carlo. “David on clay, on any surface, is one of the best players of the world. Every year it seems he’s doing everything better and better,” Nadal had said before the match. And indeed the result was an improvement on their last Roland Garros showdown – a straight-sets walloping in last year’s decider.
Taking a more aggressive approach it was fifth seed Ferrer who started the stronger, breaking for 3-1. Serving to stay in the set, Nadal threw in a poor drop-shot attempt landing halfway up the net. Where Ferrer would too often take the safe option in similar situations in the past, this time he would take it to the eight-time champion, bringing up two set points with an overhead smash before running down a Nadal forehand volley to smack the winner crosscourt for the opening set.
The turning point came with Nadal serving 3-2 up a break in the second set. Ferrer brought up two break-back points with a backhand winner down the line only to miss both with forehands long. A third chance would go begging and two backhand misses from the usual-Captain Consistent let the defending champion off the hook.
“Probably yes, I was a little bit lucky that he made a few mistakes to help me. After the first set I tried to move more with my forehand. He made more mistakes than usual then,” Nadal admitted afterwards.
The Majorcan would go on to bring up triple set point with a first service drawing the error before taking it with a backhand winner to level proceedings at a set apiece.
From there, Ferrer self-destructed and Nadal’s confidence lifted. The eight-time champion also wanted this done before dark. He broke to love to open the third, was 4-0 up in a hurry and handed his opponent a bagel set with a forehand winner.
With his confidence waning, Ferrer again started slowly in the fourth, dropping his opening service and losing 11 points in a row as Nadal hammered home the advantage for 3-0. The top seed was on a 10-game winning streak before Ferrer would even get on the board in the fourth. A break of service for Ferrer was momentary reprieve. He sprayed a backhand wide to fall behind 5-1 and misfired on an off-forehand to give his more decorated countryman a semi-final date with Andy Murray after two hours and 34 minutes.
Don’t expect Nadal to be lounging about next to his opponent before that showdown, should the rain delays return.