Paris – As kids like to say these days, it works.
Much sooner than many had hoped, French Open champion Novak Djokovic will face 13-times Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal in Tuesday’s quarter-final match, the first match of the two top men’s players since. The epic semi-finals last June.
It took some of tennis’s greatest for Nadal to survive five sets, four hours and 21 minutes of excitement on Sunday night against Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, but a match many are eagerly awaiting looms.
Expecting Nadal, Djokovic said after his fourth win in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3, Diego Schwartzman beat Argentina. “I’m ready for that.”
Perhaps more so than Nadal, who survived one of the biggest fears of his French Open career against Auger-Aliassime, the tireless Canadian athlete with a powerful serve and big forehand.
“We have a lot of history together,” Nadal said of Djokovic.
They have played each other 58 times, and Djokovic was 30-28 ahead. It’s a classic clash of tactics, Nadal blasting and running on mud, his favorite surface, and Djokovic delivering his superb timing, unrivaled steelwork, and the most diverse arsenal in the game.
Even more than that, it is a clash between two men whose personalities and paths, especially over the past year, have pushed them into different spheres of sport and public consciousness. One is a beloved citizen of the world, the other a polarizing, outspoken iconoclasm, so firm in his beliefs that he was willing to spend his final years on the sidelines rather than receive a Covid-19 vaccination.
There were scattered shouts when Djokovic was brought to court by Susan Lenglin on Sunday. Fans in Center Court, Philippe Chatrier, chanted “Rafa, Rafa” during the evening, urging the Spanish champion immortalized by a nine-foot-tall statue outside the stadium.
Since Djokovic has achieved almost the impossible defeating Nadal At last year’s French Open, Nadal was obliquely competing with his main rival.
Djokovic fought an all-out quest last year to overtake Nadal and Roger Federer in the Grand Slam titles and almost did so, by evening, the Big Three racked up 20 wins each for six months and come within one match of going forward. Nadal, who ended his season in 2021 in stubbornness after the French Open with a chronic foot injury, said ending his career with the biggest grand slam didn’t matter much to him.
Djokovic refusal to vaccinate They questioned solid science. Nadal has long been vaccinated, because, he says, he is a tennis player and in no position to question what experts say is best for overall health.
Djokovic tried to lead a team Independent Players Association, the ATP, which launched him along with a handful of other players in 2020. Nadal refused to join the group and remains a member of the ATP Players Council, keeping Djokovic’s regulation out of the sport’s decision. -Making process.
In court, they seized each other’s property. After defeating Nadal in the semi-finals last year, Djokovic erased from a two-set deficit and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final to win it. Second title in the French Open.
In January, after being largely inactive for six months and not sure if his footing would allow him to play again, Nadal won the Australian OpenDjokovic has won more than any other Grand Slam title nine times.
Djokovic won three consecutive Australian titles and traveled to the country expecting to be allowed to defend his titles. He tested positive for Covid-19 and recovered in mid-December. It was believed that he would be allowed into the country despite its strict rules banning unvaccinated visitors. It was They were arrested at the border and deported After government officials considered his stance against vaccinations a danger to public health.
As the controversy spread, Nadal said he felt sorry in some ways for his rival, then kicked some dirt on Djokovic, who was being held in a Melbourne hotel with asylum seekers.
“He’s known the circumstances for months, so he makes his own decision,” Nadal said.
The fighting continued in the shadows in Paris. Djokovic complained that the ATP did not share the organization of its players in its discussions with Wimbledon after the tournament Players from Russia and Belarus banned Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Tour responded by announcing that it would not award rating points for the event, a move Nadal advocated as necessary to protect all players.
They even have different approaches to their careers. Djokovic said on Sunday that finishing first was “always the top target at the start of every season, especially in the Federer and Nadal era”.
A few hours later, Nadal, who is currently ranked fifth, said he did not pay any attention to his ranking. Just a number. Not important to him.
With the confrontation now approaching less than 48 hours, the conversation has turned to whether they will play during the day or night, with each declaring their preference for the tournament organizers.
Nadal prefers to play during the day, when the weather is warmer, and the ball bounces high off the mud, straight into his wheelhouse, and flies off his racket.
Djokovic excels at night, especially in Australia and the US Open, when it’s cooler and slower. His match against Nadal turned out last year when the sun went down and the temperature dropped and Nadal struggled to hit the ball through the court. Nadal said last week that he doesn’t think clay-court tennis should happen at night. Too cold and too wet, it makes the clay stick to the balls, giving them the feel of heavy rock on his paddle.
Nadal won the preliminary scheduling battle on Sunday, playing his match at Court Philippe Chatrier. Organizers put Djokovic in the second court, Susan Lenglin, a smaller, more open venue with only one level of seating, leaving it vulnerable to high winds.
Djokovic managed the challenge, making Schwartzman look like a fencing partner that forced Djokovic to run and stay on the court long enough – a little more than two hours – but not for long. After he ran one fast into the net for a perfectly fine shot, he put his finger to his ear, and beckoned the crowd to give him his due.
Nadal had no such fears, although he struggled since the start of the cold and stormy evening. Forty minutes into the match, he had lost 5-1 and two breaks, the rarest of events for someone who entered the match with 108-3 in this tournament.
Nadal often cleans up the duct tape portion in the middle of the baseline before heading to his chair for a change. As Auger Aliassime pumped his fist after sealing the first set, 6-3, Nadal spent a few extra seconds working the line with his foot, apparently taking extra time to prepare for the tough places this match was going to go.
Nadal appeared to be in control of the match by winning the second and third sets, but unlike Djokovic, Nadal has not been emotional at Roland Garros this year, missing out on opportunities to shut down his rivals like the killer he has been in years past.
It happened again on Sunday. In the end, in the crucial moments of the final two games of the final set, it took a magical forehand shot on the move to smash a pass down the line, and an all-out run to catch up. An aerial shot, a perfect second serve on a T, two more comprehensive pursuits and two deep forehands for Nadal to start his confrontation with Djokovic.
Just as everyone had hoped.