The heat is on as Paris gets ready for Nadal v Djokovic

PARIS • It is one of the greatest rivalries in tennis, currently standing at 57 matches, encompassing Grand Slams, ATP Finals, Masters 1000 events, the Olympics and Davis Cups.

Rafael Nadal will meet Novak Djokovic once again today for the 58th time - more than any other player - in the semi-finals of the French Open at Roland Garros, the very place where they first clashed in 2006.

Their last-four match will be the second time in less than a month that they will face each other on brick-red clay, which is the Spanish tennis star's favourite surface.

World No. 1 Djokovic, however, gave Nadal all he could manage in their recent three-set clay-court match in the final of the Italian Open, which his third-ranked opponent won for the 10th time.

The Serb holds the edge against his Spanish rival at 29-28, although Nadal is far superior on clay, with a 19-7 record that currently looks even more imposing.

It is also heating up in Paris, baking the red dirt and making the ball fly just the way the 13-time French Open champion and 20-time Slam winner likes.

"We know each other well," Nadal said after beating 10th seed Diego Schwartzman, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in the last eight on Wednesday, improving his record in Paris to 105-2. "Everybody knows that in these kind of matches anything can happen."

Djokovic's last win over Nadal on clay was in Rome in 2016, making him the underdog today, but the 34-year-old is convinced he can upset the "King of Clay".

"The quality and the level of tennis that I've been playing in the past three, four weeks on clay - Rome, Belgrade, and here - is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of that match," the Australian Open champion, who won here in 2016, said after finishing off ninth-seeded Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, in the quarter-finals.

"I'm confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn't be here. It's the biggest challenge you can have playing against Rafa on this court.

"Each time we face each other, there is that extra tension and expectation. The vibes are different walking on the court with him."

Both are aware that the work is not done for whoever emerges the victor today.

"There's a big difference," Nadal said. "The winner of that match needs to keep going, and there remains a lot of work to do to try to achieve the final goal here."

Djokovic, who is not only aiming for his 19th Slam but also to become the first man in over 50 years to do the career Slam twice, added: "The anticipation for the match against him, any match, any surface, any occasion, is always different from any other."

The other semi-final today will see Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas take on Germany's Alexander Zverev, and one of them will be in Sunday's final seeking a maiden Slam.


  • 58th

    Time Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will face off today, with the latter seeking his 30th victory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'The heat is on as Paris gets ready for Nadal v Djokovic'. Subscribe