Roger Federer made his Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros in 1999, losing in the opening round to world number 3 Patrick Rafter, and 2 years later he reached his first Major quarter-final in Paris, still at the age of 19. 12 months ago Roger was in the fourth round (Roland Garros was the most successful Slam for him in his early years on the Tour), losing to Alex Corretja, and the Spaniard was his rival in 2001 as well, prevailing against the young Swiss by 7-5 6-4 7-5 in 2 hours and 41 minutes to advance into the semis, 3 years after losing to Carlos Moya in the title match (he went on to reach the final, losing to Gustavo Kuerten). In 2000, Roger made Alex run for his money in the opening two sets, and he fought even better this time around, winning just 9 points less than Corretja and staying in touch with more experienced rival almost all the time.
They had the same first serve percentage and the efficiency once they landed the first serve in, and Alex defended his second serve a little bit better, which made the difference in his favor. Both players had a lot of chances on the return, with 33 break points up for grabs, and it was Corretja who fends off 12 out of 16 break chances he had to play against, and he stole Roger's serve 7 times from 17 opportunities to prevail in 3 sets. Overall, Alex controlled his shots just a little bit better, playing with more patience to finish the match with more winners and fewer number of errors, especially in the most important points, but he was really challenged by Roger who gave everything he had in order to extend his Roland Garros run. It wasn't the match of the highest quality, with more than 80 unforced errors, but the scoreboard was tight from start to finish, with no more than 2 games advantage for Alex in any of 3 sets.
Also, there were a lot of important moments and long games with so many break chances, and the crowd could enjoy in the battle of the one-handed backhands for more than 2 and a half hours. Just 42 points saw rallies with more than 8 shots while the other 189 ended with the exchange that was quick for the terms of clay court tennis, as they both, Federer especially, used the opportunity to attack the rival and impose their shots before the player on the other side of the net do that. There were almost 20 volley winners and a lot of passing shots, and they stayed away from grueling rallies with 30 strokes or more. As we already said, they made a lot of errors but the winners were there too, firing more than 60 from the field combined.
Federer kept the points on his racquet with sharp forehands and a solid number of volley winners too, while Corretja made the biggest damage with his rock solid backhand. Thanks to his big swing, Spaniard needed time to settle for that shot but he passed that test nicely, moving around the court well and not allowing Roger to push him away from the baseline. Swiss could hit only 4 winners with his backhand and 30 mistakes in total came from that wing, and his forehand, although it was a serious weapon already, didn't have that sharpness that he will add to his game in the years to come. More importantly, his forehand let him down in some pivotal moments, rushing to close the points early and lacking composure that Corretja kept on his side in the most of the match.
We must not forget that this was only the 8th Grand Slam tournament for the super talented teenager and that Alex already played in the final here, with a few other good results, and that certainly helped him to grab the upper hand in the closing stages of every set and reach the last 4. They had 13 service winners each and Alex was in front by 35-30 in the direct points from the field, hitting at least 5 winners from both his forehand, backhand, volley and smash. Most of Roger's winners came from forehand and volley, and he was unable to hurt his rival with a backhand, that was still his weakest shot.
The number of unforced errors was almost equal, with 42 for Roger and 41 for Alex, and Roger had 3 forced errors more, 25 compared to 22. Both players had 5 double faults and they were separated by only 5 winners and 4 errors, which is a perfect illustration of how close the entire match was. Nothing could separate them in the mid-range rallies from 5 to 8 shots (45-45), in the longer ones from 9 to 12 strokes (12-12) and in the 4 longest rallies that passed the 20-shot mark (2-2), another indicator of how close the battle was. Corretja had a 52-45 edge in the shortest points up to 4 shots, and also a 9-5 lead in the rallies between 13 and 20 shots, and that proved to be crucial in his triumph.
Roger kicked off the action with a hold at love, striking 2 service winners and one from his forehand, and Corretja got his name on the scoreboard after winning an 18-stroke rally in game 2, closing it with a service winner. In the next 6 games, returners were in the spotlight with 2 breaks and other 4 games that reached deuce, and it all started from game 3 when Roger held after a deuce, hitting already his 5th service winner since the start of the match. Alex also brought the 4th game home after a deuce and he created the first break point in game 5 following 2 backhand winners.
Roger got out of jail with 2 volley winners to stay in front and it was his turn to make a threat on the return in game 6. Alex fends off a break point with an ace and he clinched the game after two good attacks to level the score at 3-3. Federer's first serve vanished in the 7th game and Corretja used that to take the control, forcing errors from his opponent to notch the first break and move 4-3 in front. Nonetheless, he wasted everything he did in that game with 3 errors in game 8, as Roger broke back at love, finishing the game with a smash winner, returning to the positive side of the scoreboard.
After 2 good holds on both sides, we saw another break in game 11 when Roger made 4 errors, rushing to finish the points early, and that cost him a lot, as he gave Corrtetja the opportunity to serve for the set. Young Swiss sprayed another 4 errors in game 12 and the Spaniard grabbed the opener by 7-5 in 50 minutes. It was a tight set, decided in the last 2 games, and Federer was the one who couldn't keep his focus in the closing stages, with too many errors in the crucial moments. Roger had 6 service winners compared to 5 from Alex and they were tied on 7 direct points from the field. Corretja stayed on 8 unforced errors while Federer counted to 15, 11 of those from his forehand, and it was 10-8 for the Spaniard in the forced errors department, with 3 double faults for each. The teenager showed why he reached the last 8 and he was close to his rival all the time, looking to push him even more in set number 2.
Federer bounced back at the start of the second set, firing 3 winners in the first game, and he broke Alex in game 2 for his biggest lead in the match. Still, Spaniard found the way to break right back in game 3 with a backhand winner, and he seized the momentum, holding at 15 in game 4 and scoring another break in game 5 with a forehand down the line winner to move 3-2 in front. The 6th game turned into an open war and Roger converted his 3rd break point to pull the break back and draw level at 3-3. Alex had 2 game points to increase the lead to 4-2 but he failed to convert any of them and had to start all over if he wanted to build a new advantage. He got the opportunity for that already in the next game, converting his 4th break point after a 23-stroke rally to break Roger for the third time in a row.
Both players were all over the place in the last 15 minutes, unable to settle into the desired rhythm, and Corretja had to save 3 break points in game 8 before he held for a 5-3. He saved 2 break points with winners and he was now in a good position to clinch the second set and create a huge lead that would get him closer to the finish line. Both players served well in the last 2 games which means that Corretja secured the set by 6-4, blasting a service winner in that 10th game to be a set away from the semi-final, while Roger had a mountain to climb in front of him if he wanted to even think about a turnaround. The set lasted 53 minutes and it was a close one just like the first, with a similar number of break points and Corretja who used his chances better. Spaniard had more winners, 4-1 in service winners and 13-10 from the field. Still, he played with more risk and that brought 17 unforced errors, compared to 12 from Roger. Swiss had 9 forced errors, 3 more than his rival, and it all came down to one extra break that Alex had under his belt.
Things went from bad to worse for the youngster, who wasted a game point at the start of the third set to get broken after 3 mistakes he made. Corretja confirmed the break with 3 winners in game 2 and Roger responded in a similar way in game 3, reducing the deficit to 2-1. Spaniard hit the right pace in those moments and he punched additional 3 winners to establish a 3-1 advantage, marching towards the finish line. Federer held in game 5 after a deuce and he had a break point a few minutes later, that could bring him back to the scoreboard. Corretja converted his third game point, closing the game with 2 winners, and he was now 2 games away from the win.
The match could have been finished earlier, as Alex created another break point in game 7 with 2 backhand winners. Roger gave his best to stay composed, firing 3 winners to escape another lost service game, staying within a break deficit before Corretja increased the lead to 5-3 with 3 winners in game 8. Federer served to stay in the match in game 9 and he landed 3 direct points to hold his serve in the best possible way, but he had only 1 chance to break his rival and prolong the match. He seized it with both hands, breaking Alex at 15 (he won 8 out of the last 9 points) to level the score at 5-5 and give the crowd more drama and excitement.
Still, his efforts were in vain, wasting a game point in game 11 to drop serve after 2 deep returns from Corretja, who sealed the deal with a smash winner, earning another chance to close the match on own serve. Federer didn't want to leave the court without giving his everything, saving 2 match points and creating a break point that could have changed everything, and Alex did a fine job when he fends it off and wrapped up a win on 4th match point with a backhand down the line winner for the place in the semis. Federer had a 6-4 advantage in service winners and Corretja erased that with a 15-13 lead in the winners from the court. Once again, it all came down to errors, with 16 unforced from Alex and 15 from Roger. It was 8-6 for Roger in forced errors and this proved to be the closest set of all 3, decided by only a few balls.
Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: