Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal face each other for the 58th time on Friday on the same pitch where they first met 15 years ago with a place in the Roland-Garros final.
It is the biggest modern rivalry in tennis between two men who have collected 38 Grand Slam titles and 72 Masters between them.
Djokovic has spent more weeks at world number one than any other player, while Nadal, the 13-time Roland Garros winner, hasn’t been in the top 10 for 16 years.
Nadal will start Friday’s semi-final as a favorite, backed by his record of 105 wins and just two losses in his career at Roland Garros.
The 35-year-old also has the advantage over Djokovic on clay with a career lead of 19-7 and 7-1 in Paris.
Djokovic hasn’t beaten Nadal on the surface since Rome in 2016.
However, he can boast of being one of only two men to have beaten Nadal in Paris in the quarter-finals in 2015.
“It’s a highly anticipated semi-final and here we are,” said Djokovic of a rivalry that started on Philippe Chatrier court in 2006.
“We have had battles over the years on this ground. “
Nadal beat 2016 champion Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s final, the Serbian’s third loss in the league game in Paris against the Spaniard.
There’s a lot at stake on Friday as both rivals move closer to Sunday’s final.
Djokovic can win a 19th Slam and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Slams twice.
Nadal’s victory would give him a 21st major, a record breaking tie with Roger Federer.
“The vibes are different when walking on the pitch with him,” Djokovic added. “But that’s why our rivalry has been historic. “
It was a tournament in reverse for Djokovic.
After running the first three laps, he had to come back from two sets to beat 19-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti.
In the quarterfinals, he lost the third set to Matteo Berrettini.
With the exception of a misstep in the second set in the quarterfinals against Diego Schwartzman, Nadal reached his 14th semi-final relatively unscathed.
But despite his stranglehold on clay over Djokovic, Nadal is not too far ahead of himself.
– ‘Ego tells me more’ –
“It’s a semi-final, not a final. It’s a big difference, ”he said.
Djokovic’s final chapter against Nadal eclipsed Friday’s other semi-final between Greece’s fifth-seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and sixth-seeded Germany’s Alexander Zverev.
# photo1 They have met seven times but only once on clay in Madrid in 2019 when Tsitsipas triumphed.
Tsitsipas, 22, is in his third consecutive Slam semi-final and took Djokovic to five sets in the last four at Roland Garros in 2020.
He arrived in Paris with clay court titles this year in Monte Carlo and Lyon and had a match point to beat Nadal in the Barcelona final.
“I feel privileged to be in this position (to reach three Slam semi-finals). I worked hard on a daily basis and that has been a key part of my presence here, ”Tsitsipas said.
“But you know, my ego tells me I want more. “
Zverev is in his first semi-final at Roland Garros after almost falling at the first hurdle against his compatriot Oscar Otte, 152nd.
“It’s good that I didn’t face Rafa or Novak in the quarter-finals,” Zverev admitted.
“I think playing Rafa here in the final, for example, is even worse. It is even more difficult. But I also have to get there first. “
Whoever qualifies for Sunday’s final will have their work cut out for them.
Tsitsipas is 2-7 against Nadal and 2-5 against Djokovic.
Zverev is 3-6 against Nadal and 2-6 against Djokovic.
© 2021 AFP