How often do Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic face each other at such an early stage of the Grand Slam? This is not a clash you would expect to play out in the quarter-finals and the grand rivalry demands a grand stage. Not that quarter-finals of the French Open are a regular affair; it’s still a dream for thousands of tennis players across the world.
But both Nadal and Djokovic are different species, and the normal rule for the masses doesn’t work for them. The rivalry built over decades contains enough drama, emotions, triumphs, and disasters for filmmakers to exploit, and each episode is unique in its own right. Reshaping the course of the tennis history, each episode of this rivalry serves as a reminder to us mere mortals of how blessed we are to witness tennis of such spectacular level.
The last time both of them met, in the same tournament, Djokovic emerged victorious in four sets. The third set between them lasted for a mind-boggling 93 minutes, a duration long enough for an entire football match to be completed. It was an unforgettable night culminating with Nadal losing his first-ever semi-final in Roland Garros.
Almost a year has passed, and not a lot has changed between the two. They continue to defy age and are still capable of setting up some of the most intense of matches.
Their contrasting personality is just a cherry on the top. Nadal, a bull-like warrior with impeccable fashion sense, is an aesthete’s delight. The most thrilling aspect of his game is his court coverage; the way he runs from one extreme to the other without losing his grace and poise, and while he does that, never for a moment does it feels like he is being rushed. The note of elegance never leaves him during his entire motion. His whippy and powerful groundstrokes are loaded with a dangerous amount of topspin that can falter even the most routine shots.
Djokovic, meanwhile, is the true epitome of what a player designed in the laboratory would look like. Armed with impassable defense, he tests the limit of his opponents. What could have been the winner against others is simply one more shot in the rally. He knows he can’t be outlasted. He also knows that taking the game deep will induce natural errors from his opponents, Contrary to popular notion, he doesn’t raise his game in decisive moments. He just tries to ensure that he plays at his own level, and watches his opponents crumble in the face of a crisis. This is what got Djokovic 20 Grand Slams.
Novak Djokovic has a winning record against both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He has won 30 games and lost 28 matches to Nadal. Most of his losses came on clay. In the finals, the Serb is ahead by 15-13.
The rivalry began way back in 2006, when Djokovic retired out in the third set of the quarter-finals in French Open. For the first four years, Nadal had an edge over Djokovic, winning 16 games and losing only seven. But in the next six years, Djokovic pulled the plug back by winning 19 of the next 24 games against Nadal. He is also the only player to beat Nadal in straight sets in Paris.
Why Djokovic Needs To Win This Game To Stay Ahead In The GOAT Race
At the beginning of the year, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer were tied with 20 Grand Slams each. Djokovic was expected to surpass both his rivals in his favourite tournament: Australian Open. But his refusal to get vaccinated stood in the way as the Australian government deported him. Nadal ended up winning the tournament to move to 21.
If Nadal manages to beat Djokovic on Tuesday, it will set him on the course for his 22nd Grand Slam. The Serb must defeat Nadal in the quarter-final to maintain the gap, as it will keep Nadal at 21. Moreover, the grass season hasn’t ever been a strong suit for Nadal, thus even if Djokovic fails to win French Open, he will still have two more opportunities (Wimbledon & US Open) to level up with Nadal’s Grand Slam count.
Moreover, for the first time in his playing career, Nadal will not head into a French Open Clash as the favourite. It took him five sets to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round, and throughout the game, he struggled with his movement and groundstrokes. Battling multiple injuries, Nadal is not sure of what the future holds for him.
“Being honest, every match that I play here I do not know if it will be the last match here in Roland-Garros in my tennis career. That is my situation now,” said Nadal after the match. “I went through a tough process again with my foot. I do not know what will happen in the near future with my career, so I am just trying to enjoy and fight as much as I can to keep living the dream.
Djokovic, who is the only man to beat Nadal twice in Roland Garros, is ready for the challenge. He said: “It’s an anticipated match for a lot of people. I am glad because I didn’t spend too much time on the court, knowing that playing him at Roland Garros is always a very physical battle.”
Featured Image Credit: ATP