French Open: Rafael Nadal wary, Novak Djokovic confident as semi-final clash looms

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The time for talk and anticipation is coming to an end. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have come through all the hurdles posed in the first five rounds at Roland Garros. The most highly anticipated match of the French Open is finally upon us.

As soon as the men’s singles draw was revealed, all eyes were on the potential semi-final clash between the two favourites coming into the French Open – Nadal and Djokovic. Roger Federer was also in the same half, but he was forced to withdraw as a precaution.

Nadal had to overcome a stiff challenge from Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals. The Spaniard was delighted to come through in four sets after looking to be in trouble in the second and midway through the third set.

The 13-time Roland Garros champion now realises that a much tougher challenge lies ahead after Djokovic beat Matteo Berrettini to book his place in the last four. The “King of Clay” may have a dominant 17-9 record over the Serb on the red dirt, but he is aware of the fact that Djokovic is one player that can pose a serious threat to him becoming the first male tennis player to win 21 major singles titles.

“It’s always a big challenge. [The] best thing is you know that you need to play your best tennis. It’s a match that you know what you have to do if you really want to have chances to succeed and to keep going on [in] the tournament,” Nadal said, as quoted on the ATP Tour website.

“That’s something that is good, because in some ways we are practising [and] we are living the sport for these moments… The negative thing [is that] it’s difficult because you play against one of the best players in the [sport’s] history.”

Djokovic and Nadal have faced each other a mammoth 57 times with the Serb holding a slight 29-28 advantage. However, when it comes to their Roland Garros record, Nadal leads 7-1 with Djokovic’s only win coming in the quarterfinals in 2015. The record prompted the Serb’s coach Goran Ivanisevic to suggest it is better to face the Spaniard before the final.

Despite the record, Djokovic, who came through a gruelling four set win over Berrettini, seemed confident about facing Nadal. The world number one labelled the Spaniard his greatest rival in the game and believes his game is in the right place to take on the Roland Garros specialist.

“The quality and the level of tennis that I’ve been playing in the past three, four weeks on clay — [in] Rome, Belgrade and here — is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of that match,” Djokovic said. “I’m confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Let’s have a great battle.”

The semi-final clash between Djokovic and Nadal is scheduled for Friday on Court Philippe-Chatrier.


Rafael Nadal (R) and Novak Djokovic (L) played each other for the 57th time.
Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP