Novak Djokovic as soon as once more stands on the brink of finishing essentially the most troublesome single-match task on Sunday at Roland Garros: defeating Rafael Nadal, who has by no means misplaced a remaining in 12 championship matches within the French Open.
Lest you are taking that for hyperbole, hearken to Djokovic.
“Nicely, is not it apparent?” he requested early Friday night after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 within the semifinals. “He [Nadal] received this match so many instances that I do not suppose any participant has received that many instances any match. He is misplaced twice in his complete profession on this court docket.”
Djokovic and Nadal, respectively the highest two seeds, will play for all of the French Open marbles for the third time of their careers within the newly renovated Courtroom Philippe Chatrier. Nadal reserved his personal place in Sunday’s remaining, dispatching Diego Schwartzman in straight units, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (0), earlier on Friday.
That stadium might not be “the home that Nadal constructed,” however he has rented it virtually with out interruption since 2005 when, having simply turned 19, he first belted his method to a championship on Chatrier’s gritty, crimson grime flooring.
“I do know it’s a court docket the place I’ve been taking part in properly for such a very long time, in order that helps,” Nadal mentioned after ripping by means of Schwartzman, who had surprised Nadal just a bit over three weeks in the past within the remaining of the Italian Open. Nadal added, “On the identical time, he [Djokovic] has a tremendous document right here, too, being within the remaining rounds virtually each single time.”
Remaining rounds, sure. Championships, no.
Had been it not for Nadal, Djokovic may need as many as 4 or 5 French Open trophies on show in his dwelling as a substitute of simply the one he earned to finish his profession Grand Slam in 2016 — a 12 months when Nadal withdrew from the occasion through the first week on account of a wrist harm. Nadal has bedeviled Djokovic six instances in seven conferences in Paris within the springtime (this 12 months’s occasion was postponed for 4 months because of the coronavirus pandemic), together with twice in finals.
So what’s Nadal, with 12 titles and a Twilight Zone document of 98-2 at Roland Garros, acquired to fret about?
Greater than could meet the attention.
“Totally different circumstances, totally different type of match and totally different state of affairs,” the 34-year-old from Mallorca mentioned, referring each to the pandemic that has restricted his customary clay-court preparations and the situations at this chilly, damp, particular October version of the French Open.
“The situations are totally different than those that we’re used to taking part in in Might and June,” Djokovic mentioned. “I believe that could possibly be a greater likelihood for me, clearly the ball not bouncing as excessive over the shoulder as he likes it often. [But] look, whatever the situations, he is nonetheless there. He is Rafa, he is within the finals and we’re taking part in on clay.”
Nadal’s superiority at Roland Garros belies the dazzling arc of Djokovic’s profession. The Serbian 33-year-old has been, by consensus, the most effective participant in tennis since 2011. He has received 16 of his 17 main titles in that interval — Nadal bagged 10, Roger Federer, 4 — whereas reversing his fortunes in head-to-head matches with Nadal and Federer.
Rafael Nadal survives a 23-shot rally in opposition to Diego Schwartzman within the first set and goes on to succeed in his 13th French Open remaining.
Within the first 5 years of their rivalry, ending in 2010, Nadal edged Djokovic in 16 of 23 matches together with all 9 conferences on clay. Beginning in 2011, although, Djokovic dramatically reversed the tide. He is 22-10 in opposition to Nadal, which has lifted him to an general lead of their sequence of 29-26.
Most important concerning Sunday, Nadal is simply 8-7 in opposition to Djokovic on clay because the begin of 2011 — the start of the Serbian star’s glory days. However except three French Open conferences, these have been best-of-three set matches.
The momentum within the rivalry clearly belongs to Djokovic, however the “King of Clay” has been so overpowering in Paris that in over 100 matches he has solely been compelled to play 5 units on 4 events. He has received all of them, together with a memorable 2013 semifinal in opposition to Djokovic.
That win stands out on Nadal’s profession spotlight reel as a result of it occurred at a time when Djokovic, the youngest of the sport’s Huge Three, was quickly closing the hole on his two iconic rivals. Nadal held on to win that Four 1/2-hour barn burner, 9-7 within the fifth.
That was a bitter capsule for Djokovic to swallow. His declared major ambition for the 12 months was to win the match so as to full his profession Grand Slam. Additionally, Jelena Gencic, Djokovic’s childhood coach, had died over the center weekend of the match. He badly wished to dedicate a win in Paris to her reminiscence.
“It has been an unbelievable match to be part of, however all I can really feel now’s disappointment. That is it,” Djokovic mentioned, after dropping the agonizingly shut match.
The second was as candy for Nadal because it was acid for Djokovic. It was the primary main Nadal performed after lacking seven months on account of knee tendinitis.
Nadal was in a position to shut down Djokovic’s drive to finish a profession Grand Slam at Roland Garros another time in 2014 throughout a ragged four-set remaining.
In distinction to the situations forecast for Sunday (a excessive of 58 levels Fahrenheit with rain), that match was performed in suffocating warmth and humidity. Djokovic seemed spent within the late phases of that one, his eyes sunken deep into their sockets. He appeared to vomit throughout a changeover early within the fourth set.
“It isn’t unimaginable, but it surely’s very troublesome to stick with Rafa on this court docket all through the entire match on the best degree of efficiency,” Djokovic mentioned afterwards.
However the floor beneath Nadal’s ft quickly shifted as unpredictably as if it have been made from free clay. After that final win at Roland Garros, he skilled the primary actual droop of his profession. He faltered on grass, and a wrist harm and appendicitis resulted in Nadal lacking the US Open. He did not even make a semifinal all 12 months after that final French Open title.
Nadal continued to battle in 2015. He did not earn a single title on the Euroclay tour he habitually dominated. He absorbed 5 losses on clay — greater than he had throughout one complete five-year interval earlier in his profession. Nadal’s rating had dropped to No. 7 by the point he ready to defend his French Open title.
In the meantime, Djokovic went on 36-2 rampage earlier than the beginning of Roland Garros. He carried a 27-match successful streak into his quarterfinal with Nadal. Ranked and seeded No. 1, Djokovic confirmed no mercy, drubbing Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.
“I did lose to him on this court docket many of the matches that we performed, however I additionally received one match in 2015 in straight units in quarters,” Djokovic mentioned on Friday. “That is the match that I will look again at and clearly attempt to take some positives out of it and use it tactically in opposition to him.”
The 2 males have met 11 instances since that breakthrough win for Djokovic however by no means at Roland Garros. Djokovic received eight of these battles, however Nadal received three of 4 on clay. With each males chasing Federer’s males’s document for Grand Slam singles titles (the Swiss star has 20, Nadal 19 and Djokovic 17), this match swells with higher significance than any they’ve contested beforehand on the French Open.
Djokovic could certainly draw some confidence and inspiration from having overwhelmed Nadal within the throne room at Chatrier the final time they performed there, however 5 years is a very long time to maintain a flame burning. And as Djokovic mentioned of Nadal, “He is nonetheless there, he is Rafa, he is within the finals and it is on clay.”