When the nine time Roland Garros champ Rafael Nadal steps onto the Philippe Chatrier court Wednesday afternoon to face world no.1 Novak Djokovic for a place in the French Open semi-finals, the whole world will be watching closely. The Spaniard is still 23-20 ahead in the Head to Head series, but the Serbian has been closing the gap in the last 18 months.
For many tennis fans, this clash between the two heavy weights will feel like a final, despite Rafa downplaying the fact that the winner of this showdown will go on to clinch this year’s title: “This is not the final, you know. It’s a quarter-final. The winner will not be the champion of Roland Garros. That makes a big difference. Even if it’s a special match, it’s still a quarter-final.”
The Spanish superstar and undisputed champion of Roland Garros (his only defeat came in the 2009 R16 against Robin Soderling) has produced some high quality clay court tennis during last week here in Paris. After defeating the French youngster Quentin Halys in the opener, he then dismantled Nico Almagro and Andrey Kuznetsov in straight sets before dropping a set to American Jack Sock 6-3 6-1 5-7 6-2. Having been a break up in the third set at 5-3, it almost feels like Rafa lost a bit of focus before regaining his footing and storming into the quater-finals.
However, his next opponent will be the Serbian machine Novak Djokovic, who is missing only the French Open title from his collection of 8 Grand Slam trophies. After defeating Andy Murray in this year’s Australian Open final, he will fancy his chances here in Paris too. Without dropping a set, he overcame Jarkko Nieminen, Gilles Muller, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Richard Gasquet to book his place in the quarters. Djoko’s shot making and movement have been immaculate so far and Rafa will have to come up with something very special if he wants to break down the Serbian’s rock solid defence.
If we look at the stats, Novak has won 5 out of the last 6 encounters against the Spaniard, recently defeating him in the Monte Carlo Masters semi-finals in straight sets 6-3 6-3. However, Rafa’s only win came in last year’s French Open final when he overcame the Djoker 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 and without a shadow of a doubt, Nadal’s best chance of beating the world no.1 is on his beloved Philippe Chatrier court central, where he still remains undefeated against Djokovic, holding a 6-0 record. Novak said in his press conference: “Playing him here and playing him in any other tournament in the world is completely different. Conditions are very suitable to his style of the game.”
If history is any guide, one would expect for Rafa to find a way past Nole, no matter what it takes. On the other hand, the majority of tennis pundits favour Novak to break the six match losing streak vs Rafa here in Paris and march on to claim the well desired title that has been eluding him up until now.
Djokovic will have too much for Nadal this time around and no one will be able to stop him from claiming this year’s trophy.