First, Federer crashed out to his pal Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals before the very next day Nadal suffered only the second defeat of his entire Roland-Garros reign.
Loving the Rafa and Roger show
Nadal and Federer march on with wins over German journeymen.
Er, four years on, it has to be said that no similar terre battue-quake ever looked likely to be unleashed on Wednesday when the pair who have won more singles matches here than anyone provided us with the privilege of not only seeing them both play on the same day but also sail and swan in their own inimitable fashions into the third round.
The fall guys in their majestic routines? They happened to be two German journeymen, who gave everything, offered commendable resistance but were ultimately outclassed, consigned to be the great men’s combined 154th and 155th Roland-Garros victims.
“I don't like the word ‘easy’,” growled the ever-respectful Nadal after his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 triumph over Yannick Maden. “Easy is never.” However, even this ultra-perfectionist conceded “comfortable” might be acceptable, an adjective which would equally have done justice to Federer’s 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 dismantling of lucky loser Oscar Otte.
“When you play well, things looks easier. When you are playing bad, things look very difficult,” reckoned the 11-times champion as he reflected on his most un-Nadal-like lapse in the final set when he dropped serve twice in succession against the second German qualifier called Yannick that he’s played in three days.
Hanfmann and Maden mustered 13 games between them…alas, poor Yannicks.
Nadal, who has now won 15 sets in a row here since Diego Schartzman took one off him in last year’s quarter-finals, admitted what sounded like a guilty secret. “In the third (set), being honest, I think I lost a little bit concentration and intensity. And then all the match became difficult.”
What was a delight, though, was to see the masters’ different methods of snaring their prey. Nadal was the boa constrictor, out-rallying and crushing most of the fight out of his victim as he reeled off the first five games; Maden only got to breathe briefly when Nadal uncoiled in the last set.
Federer? He found Otte’s 130mph serve and booming forehands hard to tame but, with his own delivery unbroken, then struck like a cobra on just one service game each set.
“That was the plan?” grinned Federer. “No it wasn’t.” Still, though, it seemed as deadly as it was inevitable and, though he may have dropped more games than Nadal did on Court Suzanne-Lenglen - 11 to seven - he got his job done on Court Philippe-Chatrier 33 minutes more quickly than the Spaniard.
Nadal was all business apart except for one gleeful moment when he scurried back to chase down a sure-fire winner, then span around to hit an outrageous forehand winner. So pleased with himself, he did a little skip of delight as if he’d just discovered all the fun of the fair.
Federer was, well, Federer. The most preposterous of dying drop shots here, the insouciant stop volley there… don’t suggest it in Nadal’s presence but he really did make it look easy.
It gets harder, now, though. Nadal pondered a wirily tough old foe in the third round, David Goffin, and pronounced: “He's a very complex player. He has all the shots. Gonna be, being honest, a big challenge.”
Federer will be up against Casper Ruud, the soaring 20-year-old Norwegian who knocked out Matteo Berrettini, the 29th seed, and a youngster whose dad Christian played in the Swiss’s first Grand Slam. Wasn’t that guaranteed to make him feel old?
On the contrary, there’s a spring in the step of both Rafa and Roger as sport’s greatest double act roll on beautifully.