It is semifinal time in Paris and the much-anticipated clash at this year’s French Open is just around the corner. Two stalwarts of the game, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, all set to lock horns in the second semifinal on Friday.
Barely a month ago, these two legends fought a three-set battle in the final at Rome Masters. Their upcoming contest won’t be their last, either. However, each time these two gladiators stand on the opposite sides of the net, a sense of excitement, joy, and nervousness looms.
French Open Semifinal Preview
The upcoming Nadal-Djokovic semifinal is beyond just a tennis match, it is an emotion and nostalgia that fans all around the world like to indulge in. On the ATP tour, the duo have faced each other on whopping 57 times–the record for the most head-to-head contests in men’s tennis history. In spite of that, each of their contests has offered something to look forward to. The stories that they are able to unravel each time they face mesmerizes not only the ardent tennis followers, but also the casual watchers. They are neither teenagers anymore, nor are they past the peak of their prowess, yet the euphoria that surrounds the court when these two veterans of the game battle is nothing short of spectacular.
With 13 titles and counting, the Spaniard is undoubtedly the “King” of Roland Garros. Of course, if not for Rafael Nadal, Djokovic would easily have many more titles on Parisian clay than just one. Djokovic is one of only two players who has managed to beat Nadal at the French Open. (Robin Soderling in 2009 is the other.). He is also one of only two players who was able to stretch the Spaniard to the fifth set; the Serb pushed Nadal to the limits in their semifinal blockbuster in 2013. (John Isner pushed Nadal to five sets in the 2011 opening round.)
Nadal’s Paths to the Semifinal
The Spaniard was on a 35-set winning streak at Roland Garros coming into his quarterfinal against Diego Schwartzman. He started off well, taking the opening set 6-3, and stretched his streak to 36. But in the second set, Nadal’s forehand and serve deserted him as he conceded his first set on the Parisian clay since the 2019 final against Dominic Thiem. In the 3rd set, at 4-4, the match looked to be even, but it was Schwartzman who appeared to have the momentum and an upper hand.
Was Nadal really going to relinquish control just yet? Of course not, as the Spaniard put on a vintage display thereafter, leavingthe Argentine in a state of disdain. The 20-time Major champion overcame Schwartzman’s stern resistance 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-0 in two hours and 45 minutes. In the process of bageling Schwartzman in the fourth set, Nadal achieved another record. He has served 23 bagels at the French Open, thereby overtaking Jimmy Connors, who served 22 bagels at the US Open.
Djokovic’s Path to the Semifinal
World No.1 Novak Djokovic, who struggled in the first two sets against Lorenzo Musseti, got his act together in his quarterfinal against Matteo Berrettini. He won in four sets, 6-3 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5, in 3 hours and 45 minutes. The Serb can draw a great sense of satisfaction from the fact that he wasn’t broken even once in his tricky quarterfinal against the 25-year-old Italian.
Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic
In the most decorated rivalry in modern tennis history, Djokovic marginally leads his arch-rival Nadal 29-28. Interestingly, Nadal has won their last five meetings on clay. In fact, Djokovic hasn’t even come close to beating his nemesis on Nadal’ss favoriet surface. Djokovic last beat the Spaniard on clay in the 2016 Rome quarterfinals. The last time these two met at Roland Garros was in last year’s final. In spite of all the conditions that were conducive to blunt Nadal’s natural clay court game, the Spaniard bamboozled Djokovic in one of the more lopsided recent Grand Slam finals.
As far as Nadal is concerned, he can draw great heart knowing that he stepped up his game against Schwartzman when it mattered most. However, that does not hide the fact that he needs to improve his serving and be more consistent with his forehand before he steps on to the court to take on Djokovic. While the Spaniard was fortunate to get a leeway with some of his errors against Schwartzman, he would be well aware of the fact that won’t typically be the case against Djokovic.
Djokovic’s reaction after he won against Berrettini said it all as he desperately hopes to reverse the tide and get better of Rafael Nadal this time around. In his press conference that followed his quarterfinal win, the Serb openly admitted that it is the ultimate challenge to beat Nadal at the French Open, and that he believes he can do so in their upcoming contest.
"It doesn't get bigger than that." – @DjokerNole
Hear from Djokovic after his win over Berrettini yesterday & about the immense challenge that awaits him in his semi against Rafa 🙌 #RolandGarros
Full press conference in TennisONE📲 pic.twitter.com/mrddQe99Im
— TennisONE (@TennisONEApp) June 10, 2021
When Nadal and Djokovic lock horns, more often than not they push each other to the limits, bringing the best out of each other. Don’t be surprised if the upcoming semifinal turns out to be an absolute spectacle, similar to the 2013 epic.
Rafael Nadal has never lost once he has crossed the quarterfinal stage at Roland Garros. Djokovic will have to fight against history if he fancies taking down the mighty Spaniard at the tournament that he has made his own over the course of the last 17 years.
Will Djokovic manage to repeat his unimaginable feat from 2015 and tame Nadal? Or will Nadal overpower Djokovic yet again to remain on course to win his 14th title at Roland Garros?
An enticing, captivating, and thrilling contest awaits us on Friday. Nadal and Djokovic are ready to battle it out on Court Phillipe Chatrier in their upcoming French Open semifinal.
Main Photo from Getty.