PARIS — Here we go. Still.
The 59th episode of the Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal rivalry takes place at Roland Garros under the lights on Tuesday evening – a quarter-final match so eagerly awaited that the organizers have assured it will be broadcast for free, removing the usual paywall.
Two men have faced each other no more times than world No. 1 Djokovic and 21-time Grand Slam winner Nadal, a rivalry that began in 2006 and has produced some of the most gripping entertainment imaginable.
Nadal, who turns 36 on Friday, won his first meeting, at Roland-Garros in 2006, when Djokovic retired after losing the first two sets. The Spaniard has won five of his first six battles.
At one point he led the head-to-head 14-4, but Djokovic, who turned 35 earlier this month, began to overpower him in 2011, when he beat him in the Grand Slam for the first time at Wimbledon. He has since taken a 30-28 lead, as the pair have battled it out, their intensity matched only by their will to win.
It will be their 10th meeting at Roland-Garros, with Nadal winning eight of them. Djokovic’s two wins, including his stunning semi-final win in Paris last year, have led to his two French Open titles, while Nadal sits 108-3 on aggregate with a record 13 titles at Roland-Garros – his only other loss to come against Robin Soderling of Sweden in 2009.
Nadal has won 19 of his 27 clay-court encounters against Djokovic, including the 2020 final, when he played incredible tennis to win in straight sets. They faced each other in the final of the four Grand Slams.
But Djokovic did not drop a set en route to the quarter-finals of this Roland-Garros, while Nadal had to play four and a half hours to subdue Félix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round. Whoever emerges victorious will be the favorite for the title, although he will probably have to beat rising star Carlos Alcaraz, who will probably wait in the semi-finals.
🎙️ “Grand Slams have always been a priority.”
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 29, 2022
Why Novak Djokovic will win
After missing the Australian Open this year after being expelled for failing to meet the country’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements, the world No. 1 arrived in Paris rejuvenated, his confidence restored by his victory at the Masters of Rome.
Four straight wins have taken him through to the last eight without worry, and unlike some years here in the past, he believes he will beat Nadal. The defending champion knows that the conditions of the night session, when the temperatures will be cooler and the ball will not bounce as high, will suit his game, and seeing Nadal struggling in the previous round against Auger-Aliassime can only strengthen his determination.
Mats Wilander, the former world No. 1 and three-time Roland-Garros champion (the first of which came in 1982) thinks Djokovic is channeling the saga in Australia, and the Parisian crowds haven’t always been on his side, at its ratings. benefit to.
“I think he uses the crowd to motivate himself incredibly well,” said Wilander, in his role as Eurosport commentator. “They’re not against him but the crowd is definitely for the underdog in this tournament. He turns it into, ‘Well, you know what, I’m going to show you I’m world No. 1’ with his body tongue, and that helps him with the crowd. I guess I expect the same against Rafa because nobody is against Rafa in Paris.”
After starting 2022 on such a high by winning the Australian Open, Nadal missed the first month of the clay-court season with a fractured rib. His chronic left foot injury, which he has been managing since 2005, then flared up in Rome.
Above all, for the first time, he recognizes that he is nearing the end. “To be honest, every game I play here, I don’t know if it will be my last game here at Roland Garros in my tennis career, right?” he said. “That’s my situation now.”
Djokovic would also equal Nadal with 21 Grand Slams if he triumphs this weekend, which should be motivation enough.
“I imagine my chances,” he said.
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 29, 2022
Why Rafael Nadal will win
Because it’s Rafael Nadal, and because it’s Roland-Garros.
Nadal’s number of French Open titles will surely never be matched. Since 2005, he has dominated this event like no man has ever dominated a Grand Slam.
It’s an uphill battle this time around, on paper at least, given his shortened preparation, due to his coast, his foot injury in Rome and the fact that Djokovic appears to have restored his previously world-class form.
But Nadal at Roland Garros is a different animal from any other event, even Monte Carlo, where he has won 11 times, and Barcelona, where he has 12 titles.
The enormity of the Philippe Chatrier court, the main court at Roland-Garros, allows Nadal to step back on the return of serve, giving him more time on the return and using his strength. His recovery skills are unlike any other, and the space behind and to the side of the pitch gives him the chance to land seemingly impossible shots.
The consensus seems to be that Nadal will have to start fast if he wants to beat Djokovic. The last time he beat the Serbian from a set down was in the 2014 final, and the world No.1 has played significantly less than him heading into his 59th battle.
There’s no doubt that Nadal would like the weather to be warmer and the match to be played during the day.
“I don’t like night sessions on clay,” he has said several times this week. But the forecast is for it to be reasonably warm, just under 20 degrees, and the atmosphere of the night session, if last year is to be believed, will help him fight to the bitter end, like always.
Nadal will draw confidence from the way he played in the final set of his win over Auger-Aliassime. Threatened and looking vulnerable, he upped the aggression on the returns, started hitting his forehand and showed the 21-year-old who was still king.
There’s also the 2020 Roland-Garros final to compare this one to. On this occasion, when the event was played in October, the conditions were cool and almost everyone gave him little chance of beating Djokovic. Sure, he’d prefer the heat of the day, with his topspin towering over the shoulder, but there may be an element of mind games to his words this week.
If his foot is fine, and we’ve seen no evidence it’s bothering him this week, then Nadal, on clay at Roland Garros, remains tennis’ biggest challenge. If Nadal starts well and puts the public behind him, he knows what he is capable of.
After all, it’s only been four months since he won the Australian Open.
—Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) May 29, 2022
What’s going to happen ?
Despite all his incredible exploits at Roland Garros, Nadal beating Djokovic under these conditions seems possible but unlikely. The odds are with the world No. 1, possibly in four sets.