Longtime rival Novak Djokovic is responsible for two of those three defeats in Paris.
The two players, who have won 15 of the last 17 French Open titles, meet again in Tuesday’s quarter-final in one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament.
They’ve faced each other 59 times – more than any other two men in the professional sports era – and were relatively equal; Nadal leads the Grand Slam by one with 21 titles, while Djokovic leads the neck and neck 30-28.
On clay, the rivalry is one-sided in favor of Nadal, who has won seven matches compared to Djokovic’s two.
Nadal’s dominance of the tournament was such that his fourth-round victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime yesterday was only the third time in his career that he’s leading him in five sets at Roland Garros.
But in that fifth set he showed his brilliance on the clay. After two sets and three matches, Nadal’s break point glow emerged as he found himself 15-30 ahead during an Auger-Aliassime service match.
With two exceptional passes, Nadal interrupted the young Canadian and ended the match with quite a few accidents afterwards.
Meanwhile, the world number one and no.
It continued his perfect start to the tournament in which he never lost a set.
“Obviously it was a very expected match I think when the lottery went out for a lot of people,” Djokovic said, looking forward to the quarter-final against Nadal.
“I’m glad I didn’t spend much time on the field until the quarter-finals because I know playing with him at Roland Garros is always a physical struggle, along with everything else.
“[It’s] A huge challenge and perhaps the biggest challenge you can face here at Roland Garros. I’m ready for that.”
Both players have been off seasons so far; Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 has limited his participation in several tournaments including the Australian Open, while Nadal’s preparations for the French Open have been plagued by a chronic injury to his left foot.
“Of course we know each other very well. We have a lot of history together,” Nadal said after winning the fourth round.
“Here we are at Roland Garros. It is without a doubt my favorite place. I don’t know what will happen but the only thing I can guarantee is that I will fight to the end.”
In this bitter rivalry, every detail takes on extra importance. For the first time this year, tournament organizers have scheduled an evening session that may affect the outcome of the match.
Nadal prefers warmer weather during the day when the court is faster while Djokovic prefers cooler and slower nights.
The order of play will be announced on Monday.
Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev will meet in the other quarter-finals in the upper half of the lottery.
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