Then came a transformation.
Nadal stood at the net following his latest French Open win wearing that familiar crooked grin, clay caked on his arm and his leg.
The fish were spared, and Nadal has lately enjoyed smooth sailing at Roland Garros heading into his semifinal showdown today against top-ranked Novak Djokovic.
After falling behind in each of his first three matches, Nadal has won 12 consecutive sets. He’s 57-1 at Roland Garros and on the verge of becoming the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event.
“I really am playing better here,” he said. “I said I needed to make a change. I was confident that I can do it, and I did.”
And so he’s ready to renew his rivalry with Djokovic. The winner will play for the title Sunday against No. 4-seeded David Ferrer or No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who meet in the other semifinal.
Tsonga’s trying to become the first Frenchman since Yannick Noah in 1983 to win Roland Garros, and partisan Parisians might consider his match the main event today. But Nadal vs. Djokovic has the feel of a final, and it’s a match much anticipated since the draw was announced two weeks ago.
Because Nadal’s ranking slipped during a recent injury layoff, he and Djokovic wound up in the same half of that draw. As a result, they’ll meet before the final at a major event for the first time in five years.
Neither Nadal nor Djokovic seems to mind meeting in the semifinals.
“I don’t want to talk about what if,” Djokovic said. “It’s going to be a good match.”
Nadal’s 19-15 against Djokovic, including 12-3 on clay, 6-3 in Grand Slam events and 4-0 at the French Open. Nadal won when they met in the final at Roland Garros a year ago.
FAMOUS PRESENTERS: Six-time Olympic track champion Usain Bolt and eight-time Grand Slam champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario will present the men’s and women’s winners’ trophies this weekend.
The French Tennis Federation says Sanchez Vicario, who won the French Open three times, will be alongside FFT President Jean Gachassin at Roland Garros for the final on Saturday.
TROPHY PRESENTATION: Six-time Olympic track champion Usain Bolt and eight-time Grand Slam champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario will present the men’s and women’s winners’ trophies at the French Open this weekend.
The French Tennis Federation says Sanchez Vicario, who won the French Open three times, will be alongside FFT President Jean Gachassin at Roland Garros for the final on Saturday. She’ll hand the trophy to either Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova.
Gachassin and Jamaican sprinter Bolt will do the same after the men’s final on Sunday.
In the men’s semifinals Friday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic faces seven-time champion Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes on David Ferrer.
MIXED DOUBLES: Frantisek Cermak and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic won the French Open mixed doubles title Thursday, beating Daniel Nestor of Canada and Kristina Mladenovic of France 1-6, 6-4, 10-6.
In the super tiebreaker, the Czechs won four straight points to go up 9-5 and clinched victory when Mladenovic netted a backhand volley.
It’s the second Grand Slam title for Hradecka, who also won the 2011 women’s doubles title, and the first for Cermak. The pair lost in the Australian Open final in January.