Playing Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is unlike any sporting challenge. The Spaniard is as comfortable on the Philippe-Chatrier court as Michael Phelps is swimming in a pool. The legendary southpaw is so dominant on Parisian clay that winning a set against him was a major accomplishment.
When Nadal lost a set to Top 10 mainstay Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals, it ended the champion’s 36-game winning streak 13 times at Roland Garros. In most cases, Nadal doesn’t just win on clay; he dominates his opponents. Whenever an enemy dares to take a set, it overwhelms them with a relentless wave of tsunami-like attack and seemingly impenetrable defense to completely change momentum and drown a player’s hopes.
This helped Nadal win 23 6-0 sets in Paris. That’s why he’s a breathtaking 105-2 at this tournament. But on Friday, one of the two men who beat the 35-year-old, world No.1 Novak Djokovic, is set to take on the sport’s ultimate challenge once again.
“I am confident,” said Djokovic. “I believe I can win, otherwise I won’t be here.”
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As they are in every tournament at this point in their careers, Djokovic and Nadal are chasing history this fortnight. Nadal can get ahead of Roger Federer on the all-time Grand Slam title list by winning his 21st major crown. Djokovic can get closer to Federer and Nadal with his 19th and become the first man in the open era to win all four majors twice. The winner of this semi-final will be the favorite of the championship match against Stefanos Tsitsipas or Alexander Zverev.
It’s a familiar obstacle for Djokovic, who likely would have lifted the Musketeers Cup several times without the Spaniard. With a win on Friday, the seed will reach his sixth Roland Garros final, which would tie him for second all-time with Bjorn Borg.
But the 18-time Grand Slam champion knows how difficult it will be to defeat Nadal. This will be their 58th ATP Head2Head record meeting and their ninth clash on clay. Djokovic leads their epic 29-28 rivalry, but lags in this event 1-7.
Most Head2Head ATP (Open Era) meetings
|Players||# of matches||Record|
|Djokovic vs. Nadal||58 *||Djokovic leads 29-28|
|Djokovic vs. Federer||50||Djokovic leads 27-23|
|Federer vs. Nadal||40||Nadal leads 24-16|
|Connors vs. Lendl||36||Connors leads 23-13|
|Djokovic vs. Murray||36||Djokovic leads 25-11|
|Lendl vs. McEnroe||36||Lendl leads 21-15|
The 34-year-old posted an impressive 79-15 at Roland Garros, but almost half of his losses came against Nadal. The left-hander has undoubtedly been his sworn enemy in Paris. However, Nadal also pushed Djokovic to greater heights. The Serbian likes to measure up against Rafa, and he cherishes the opportunity to put his skills and determination to the test.
“It’s not a game like any other. Let’s face it, it’s the biggest challenge you can have, playing on clay against Nadal on this ground where he has been so successful in his career, ”said Djokovic. “In the final stages of a Grand Slam, it doesn’t get bigger than that.”
Playing against each other almost makes things easier. Both men know that if they don’t do their best they will likely lose.
“You have to play your best tennis. It’s a game where you know what to do if you really want to have a chance to succeed and continue the tournament, ”said Nadal. “[It is] always a big challenge. This is something that is good because in a way we practice, we live the sport for these moments.
Most Roland Garros finals
The last two times that Djokovic and Nadal faced each other in the Grand Slam semi-finals, they produced some unforgettable matches. At Wimbledon in 2018, Djokovic, who still struggled to regain his best form after struggling with his right elbow, beat Nadal 10-8 in the fifth set.
The great semi-final they played before, at Roland Garros in 2013, remains one of the most crushing defeats of Djokovic’s career. Nadal had yet tasted only one defeat in Paris, against Robin Soderling in 2009. Djokovic was the world n ° 1 and the Spanish the world n ° 4. It looked like the Serbian would finally find a way to beat Rafa in his domain. But with the seed on the serve at 4-3, 40/40 in a tension-filled fifth set, he inexplicably ran into the net as he stepped forward to put away an easy forehand volley. The Spaniard ultimately won 9-7 in the decider.
Prior to this battle, Nadal provided an important reminder. As tall as it sounds, the winner will not lift the trophy. “It’s a semi-final. It’s not a final, ”he said. “It’s a big difference. Even the winner of this match must go on and [there] There is still a lot of work to be done to try to achieve the end goal here.
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Djokovic learned it the hard way here in 2015. The Serb beat Nadal in straight sets in the quarter-finals, and he was getting closer to the Musketeers Cup, which had been his white whale. But instead, Stan Wawrinka left Paris with the title. It was not until 2016 in Djokovic to finally break through on the Philippe-Chatrier court.
You could talk about the rivalry of Djokovic and Nadal for days. However, players don’t have the luxury of thinking about it now. They have one thing in mind, and that is to get the win on Friday.
“Of course the numbers are just amazing,” Nadal said. “But I can’t think of it now, honestly. Let’s talk about it when I finish my career.
Two titans will face off, adding another chapter to one of the most legendary rivalries in all sports. But only one will advance. The other, inevitably, will be disappointed.
“We know each other well. Everyone knows that in these kinds of games anything can happen, ”Nadal said. “The player who plays better that day is the player with the best chances. That’s it. Probably if this happens, [it is] is going to be an important game for both of us.