Match No 58 of epic Nadal-Djokovic rivalry promises 'great battle'

Sports | AGENCIES 11 Jun 2021

Novak Djokovic predicted a "great battle" when he continues his rivalry with claycourt king Rafael Nadal in tonight's French Open semi-final.

The pair have faced off 57 times, the most by any rivalry in tennis, with Djokovic leading 29-28. But Nadal has been his nemesis at Roland Garros, with the Spaniard winning seven of their eight clashes there including last year's final, which turned into a demolition job.

Unusually they are meeting in a semi-final rather than a final, and that's because Nadal has dropped down to world No 3 and was placed in the same half of the draw as top-seeded Djokovic.

Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas faces Germany's Alexander Zverev, seeded sixth, in the other semi-final.

"Obviously it's a well-anticipated semi-final," said Djokovic after beating Italian Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5 in the quarter-finals. "It's not like any other match. It's the biggest challenge that you can have - playing on clay against Nadal on this court."

"We know each other well,'' said Nadal, who stayed on course for a record-extending 14th title in Paris with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over 10th-seeded Argentinian Diego Schwartzman. "Everybody knows that in these kind of matches, anything can happen.''

Should Djokovic manage to get the better of Nadal, he will be favorite to take only his second French Open title. The Serbian won it in 2016 when Nadal abandoned the tournament because of a wrist injury. Since then Nadal has been unbeatable, extending his title haul to 13.

"There's that extra tension and expectations. The vibes are different walking on the court with him," Djokovic said. "But that's why our rivalry has been historic for this sport.

"I'm confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn't be here. Let's have a great battle."

The 35-year-old Nadal is level on 20 Grand Slam titles with Roger Federer, 39. Djokovic, 34, has 18.

For nearly two years, Nadal has not dropped a set at Roland Garros - until his meeting with Schwartzman. "Losing sets is something I accepted during my career," he said. "The thing that matters is how you recover from a set lost."

Schwartzman said: "At the end, he's Rafa and he's always finding the way."

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