No two tennis players have met as many times on a court as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Two of the best players of all time, the Serbian and the Spanish, are the protagonists of the greatest rivalry in the history of this sport, which this Friday will add a new chapter at Roland Garros. Because Nole, number one in the world, and Rafa, third in the ranking, will collide (not before 12.30 in Argentina, with ESPN2 television) in one of the semis of the French Grand Slam (the other will be played by Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas from 9.50). A duel of the titans. An unmissable show.
It will be the 58th game they will play in their careers and the ninth on the brick dust of Paris, where exactly eight months ago – on October 11 – they played the final of the 2020 edition of this same tournament.
On that occasion the winner was Nadal, who won in three sets (6-0, 6-2 and 7-5), lifted the trophy for the 13th time to enlarge his legend in Bois de Boulogne and he added his 20th title in this category to equal Roger Federer’s absolute record, the same one he could surpass this year.
The Spanish, great dominator of the second “great” of the season in the last 16 years, is the great candidate to win the victory this Friday as well and get into the final.
First, because the numbers of his statistics at Roland Garros are impressive. Since his debut in 2005, he has played 107 games, with 105 wins and just two losses, and has a 13-0 record in the semifinals and finals. And lead face to face before Nole in this tournament 7-1 and 19-7 in brick dust, a surface on which he won the last five games they played (including the final last year in Paris and the one in Rome in 2021).
But also, because he reached this duel with the Serbian in full physical condition, with his tennis at a superlative level and having lost just one set so far in the contest, in the quarterfinals against Diego Schwartzman.
Last year, Nadal prevailed in the final in three sets and won his 13th title in Paris. Photo REUTERS / Charles Platiau
Djokovic, who although he is the first seeded will go for the hit, knows that it will not be easy to get Nadal down, but he has reasons to be excited. The Serbian rules the general record by 29-28 and one of those victories was achieved precisely in this contest, in which the Mallorcan seems invincible. It was in the quarterfinals of 2015, when with a 7-5, 6-3 and 6-1 he signed the second and last defeat that Rafa suffered in Paris.
The world number one, champion on French soil in 2016 and owner of 18 Grand Slams, did not have a path as simple as that of his rival in the tournament. Although he overcame the first three rounds without problems, in the second round he had to overcome a deficit of two sets to zero against the Italian youth Lorenzo Musetti and in the quarterfinals, it took almost three and a half hours and a lot of work to defeat Matteo berretini.
Likewise, after that last victory, he warned: “I think I can beat Rafa, otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. We are going to have a nice battle. I hope I can play at a higher level than last year. The quality and level of tennis that I have been having in the last three or four weeks, in Rome, Belgrade (NdR: won the title) and here they give me good feelings and a positive feeling for this game “.
The Spanish comes from defeating Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals, where he gave up his first set of the tournament. Photo EFE / EPA / IAN LANGSDON
The Serbian, who will play his 40th semifinal in a “great”, acknowledged that the duel with the Spanish “is different from any other.” “It is the greatest challenge for any player to face Nadal in brick dust, on this court where he had so many successes and in the final stages of a Grand Slam. There is nothing greater than that,” he reflected.
And he added: “The anticipation I feel before a match with him is different from that of other matches. We have played so many times that there is an extra tension and expectation. The vibrations are different when we are entering the field. I think Rafa is the greatest rival of my career “.
Nadal, champion in Barcelona and Rome in the run-up to this Roland Garros, also anticipated the clash with the Serbian after defeating Schwartzman.
“With Novak we know each other well and in this type of game anything can happen, because I will have one of the best players of all time in front of me and that is always a great challenge. The one who plays better will have more options to win. to have a chance of success, I need to get my best tennis out, “he said.
It took Djokovic three and a half hours and a lot of work to beat Berrettini in the quarterfinals. Photo MARTIN BUREAU / AFP
The Mallorcan recalled the only duel they previously played in the semifinals of this tournament, in 2013, when after four hours and 37 minutes he defeated Nole 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7) and 9-7.
“It was dramatic, there was everything, it was a very exciting game, with a very high level,” commented the number three in the ranking.
That match is considered one of the three best they played in their careers, along with the 2012 Australian Open final marathons (Djokovic triumph 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7) and 7-5 in five hours and 53 minutes) and Wimbledon 2018 (victory also for the Serbian by 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (11-9), 3-6 and 10-8 after five hours and 15 minutes ).
Is another epic battle coming over the brick dust of the Philippe Chatrier? The clashes of the past and the hierarchy of the protagonists invite us to think so. After all, these are two living tennis legends facing off on a mystical stage, for the 58th chapter of the greatest rivalry in the history of the sport. Wherever you look at it, unmissable.