PARIS – Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal will add another chapter to their rivalry when they meet in a highly anticipated clash on Friday, but there will be more at stake than just a place in the French Open final.
A semi-final battle between world number one Djokovic and 13-time Roland Garros winner Nadal was the expected result once they were placed on the same side of the table after the Spaniard fell in the standings to third behind. by Russian Daniil Medvedev.
It would be a 58th career encounter between the pair with Nadal looking to tie Djokovic on 29 wins, while the victor would also book a 29 Grand Slam final appearance, behind only Roger Federer at 31.
The 35-year-old Spaniard, a year older than Djokovic, is nevertheless the more dominant of the two on clay and has won the title at Roland Garros all 13 times he has reached the quarter-final stage.
Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in a one-sided final last year, and retired Robin Soderling are the only players to have beaten the Spaniard on red clay in Paris.
“I’m confident. I think I can win, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Let’s have a great battle,” Djokovic said of the match.
A victory on Friday will also give the victor a chance to shake up the race for most of the top men’s titles.
Nadal could take possession of the record with a win on Sunday and overtake Federer with 21 titles, while a second Roland Garros trophy would move Djokovic to 19.
German Alexander Zverev and Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas meet in the other semi-final and both are chasing their first Grand Slam title.
Many experts believe that the top four male players have reached the quarter-final stage and the odds are no longer too much against the younger generation to defeat Nadal and Djokovic in a major final.
“When you looked at the draw, this is the dream setting,” said Mats Wilander, a seven-time top winner and Eurosport tennis expert.
“This is one of the first times that I feel this, but regardless of who wins between Rafa and Novak, this will be difficult against Tsitsipas or Zverev; they have a great chance to win their first Grand Slam, a great chance.”
As Zverev reached the final of the 2020 US Open, the 22-year-old Tsitsipas has lost all three of his previous Grand Slam semi-finals, but the Greek will head into the match with a 5-2 lead in previous clashes.
Boris Becker, a six-time major winner and former world number one, believes the gap between ‘clay king’ Nadal and the other title contenders at Roland Garros was narrowing.
“I am not a clairvoyant, but the main favorite for me is still Nadal, that has not changed,” said the Eurosport expert. “At some point, the successors have to come. Nadal cannot rule Paris forever.
“I also see that Djokovic can win such a tournament, but Tsitsipas and Zverev are also almost on par. For me, it’s just a matter of time. “
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