PARIS // Such is Rafa Nadal's vice-like grip on the French Open that his semi-final opponent David Ferrer concedes beating him is "almost impossible".
Ferrer is a clay court specialist who has dropped only one set en route to the semi-finals.
But the six-times champion has been so dominant in Paris that Ferrer knows the chances of him winning when the pair meet today look slim.
"I think you can win a set against Rafa, but there is a difference between winning a set and winning a match," he said.
"Winning a match against Rafa is almost impossible. He is in such good shape."
Ferrer has won only four of 15 matches against Nadal and his only clay court success came eight years ago.
The pair have played twice this year, in Spain and in Rome, and Nadal has won both without conceding a set.
"Each match is different. In Godo, I had to be slightly more aggressive and I made mistakes," Ferrer said.
"In Rome it was different, because I had opportunities to win a set, but he played extremely well - I tried."
The two have met only once previously at Roland Garros and that was in 2005 when Nadal made his debut in Paris and won comfortably 7-5, 6-2, 6-0 before going on to win his first grand slam title.
In fact, the only time that Ferrer, who at 30 is four years older than Nadal, has beat him on clay was in their very first meeting in Stuttgart in 2004 and even that took three tough sets to get the job done.
The hard facts make grim reading for the hopes of Ferrer ahead of today's semi-final.
Nadal's straight sets victory over another Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro, in the quarter-finals brought up his 50th win at Roland Garros against just the one defeat - to Sweden's Robin Soderling in the 2009 fourth round.
On top of that, Nadal has added motivation this year as a win on Sunday would make him the first man to win seven French Open titles, snapping a tie with the Swedish legend Bjorn Borg.
It would also be his 11th grand slam title, putting him level with Borg and Rod Laver.
Ferrer, through to his first semi-final in Paris, insists that defeat for him is not inevitable.
"Yes, Rafa is always difficult to play. Even more so on clay," he said. "But as I said and I will say again - I will try and play a beautiful match, my best tennis. I have great ambitions, and I'm quite certain this is going to be a very physical match."
Nadal, who has yet to drop a set this year at Roland Garros, is full of praise for his Davis Cup partner and close friend.
"His game bothers everybody because he's one of the best players in the world on every surface, on clay especially," Nadal said.
"He's a complete player. It's very difficult to play against him, because his movements are probably the best of the world, and he's able to hit the ball very early a lot of the times.
"It will be a very tough match."
Today's other semi-final sees the top seed Novak Djokovic going up against the third seed Roger Federer and neither player has ever beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.
A year ago in the French Open semi-finals, Roger Federer put a stop to Novak Djokovic’s 43-match winning streak.
When the two men meet at the same stage at Roland Garros today, Federer again stands in Djokovic’s way. This time, Djokovic is trying to continue his bid to become the first man in 43 years to win four grand slam titles in a row.
That semi-final last year was the last time Djokovic lost at any grand slam tournament. The fourth set in particular was arguably the best contest of the whole season, with Federer prevailing in a tiebreak before losing to Rafael Nadal in the final.
Djokovic said: “Last year we were part of a great match that went the distance, and he played incredibly well. I thought I played at a very high level. I just hope we can have another good match for us and for the crowd to be a part of.
“I think for me it’s crucial to be very focused and aggressive from the first moment, because that’s something that you can always expect Roger to have, that control over the opponent from the start.
“I will try to be out there believing I can win. Now there is no real favourite for that match. It’s the semi-finals, so everything is open.”
The pair have had some epic encounters over the last couple of years, particularly at the US Open, where Djokovic has twice beaten Federer in the semi-finals after saving match points.
Neither man has been at his best at Roland Garros so far, though, and both had to fight hard to make it through to the last four in dramatic matches on Tuesday.
Djokovic saved four match points in defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga while Federer came from two sets to love down to see off Juan Martin del Potro.
“I know I can win a match in five sets,” said Federer. “I’m fit. I have no physical problems, which was different three or five weeks ago. I’m very happy.”
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE