This is THE duel that everyone has been waiting for since the draw placed them in the same half of the table. And even if the other semi-final, between Stefanos Tsitsipas, world No. 5 and fit man from the first part of the season, and Alexander Zverev (No. 6) does not lack pace, it is the shock at the top between Nadal and Djokovic who loves all eyes.
“It was the expected semi-final, and here we are,” Djokovic appreciated after his qualification at the expense of Matteo Berrettini (6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5) almost midnight Wednesday evening. “Every time we go up against each other, there is this extra tension, these extra expectations. The vibrations are different when I enter the court with him, ”describes the Serbian.
Behind their 58th duel, whatever the future finalist, the stakes are monumental.
In sight for Nadal, a dizzying 14th coronation at Roland Garros – in 17 participations – and a 21st Grand Slam record trophy, one better than Roger Federer.
” Trust “
For Djokovic, to become the first player in the Open era, and only the third in history (after Emerson and Laver), to win at least twice each of the four Grand Slam trophies. What neither Federer nor Nadal did. And, at the same time, get closer to a length of the record for major titles, with a 19th.
On his beloved land, it’s impossible not to make the Spaniard the favorite. “Rafa” at Roland Garros, it’s 105 victories for only two defeats (and one forfeit) since 2005.
If the record of their face-to-face is balanced (29-28 for Djokovic), the balance tilts very clearly in favor of the Mallorcan on ocher, 19 wins to seven, including the last five. In Grand Slam, ten to six. And above all, Porte d’Auteuil, seven to one, the last expeditious in the final last fall (6-0, 6-2, 7-5).
But Djokovic is precisely one of the only two players to have beaten him on Parisian clay, in the quarter-finals in 2015, as he recalled on Wednesday night.
“Robin Soderling also beat him (in the round of 16 in 2009, editor’s note), but that’s it. There are not many players who have won against him on this court, ”smiles the world No. 1, who firmly believes in his chances.
“The quality and level of my tennis over the last three or four weeks on clay, in Rome (final lost against Nadal), Belgrade (title) and here, give me good feelings before this match. I am confident that I can win, ”he says.
For Goran Ivanisevic, who coaches the Serbian with Slovakian Marian Vajda, that the two giants collide in the semi-finals is good news.
“It might be crazy to say that, but I wish they were in the same part of the painting. Novak would perform better, in my opinion, against him in the semi-finals. And “Rafa” better in the final, it’s psychological, “he dared in L’Equipe before the Paris fortnight.
Nadal, he would have waited one more turn. “Already, that would mean that I am in the final. There you have Novak in the semi-finals, who is an extremely difficult opponent, and if you win you know that you will have another extremely difficult opponent in the final. It’s a slightly more complicated story, ”he said.
What is there better and worse when it comes to competing against “Djoko”? “The best thing is you know what you have to do to really have your chances: you have to play your best tennis. In a sense, we train, we play sports for these moments, answers the Spaniard. The negative side is that it is difficult because you are playing against one of the best players in history. “
Arrived in the quarter-finals without losing a set, there was a serious moment of hesitation (6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0) against Diego Schwartzman (10th). “I regained my composure and when I really needed it, I played maybe at my best since the start of the tournament. This is great news. It gives me a lot of confidence, ”says Nadal. Right before the big explanation, the timing is perfect.
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