Eight months later, history brings them together again. But one of them still has that last meeting in Paris etched in his memory, when Rafael Nadal, devastating like no other time, surely, overflowed Novak Djokovic by land, sea and air, decomposed on that October afternoon.
It was cold then, the spotlights were shining, the roof covered the Chatrier and you could get to a thousand right on the stands. Not today. The sun shines like few times, the complex has partially recovered the environment – 5,000 people will attend, those allowed by the health protocol – and natural light will illuminate the most repeated reunion in the history of tennis. With that of this Friday (not before 17.30; Eurosport and DMAX), there will be 58 episodes starring both, and the latter requires a maneuver from Belgrade and anticipating the Spanish, both aware of a nuance: last year, the triumph ensured another bite to history, and this time, after the duel, there will be another world for the winner.
“I would prefer to face him in the final, without a doubt, that’s the bloody reality,” asserts Nadal, alert in all circumstances and even more so against the rival who has caused him the most troubles; it is already known, 28-29 behind in the historical. “Because whatever happens, if you win, you win the title. Some semi-finals against Djokovic are very difficult, and in the case of winning you still have another very difficult game afterwards ”, adds Manacor, more than supported by history before the appointment this afternoon, since the autumn thrashing is accompanied by the figures gold in the clashes on the ground: 19-7 for him, 7-1 at Roland Garros, where Nole was only able to beat him in the quarterfinals of 2015.
The Serbian, current number one, faces another obstacle: he has not managed to surrender the Mallorcan on sand since then, 5-0 without palliative. Nor could he with him in the last confrontation, in Rome, before tackling this Roland Garros, nor in the only meeting between the two in the semifinals of the great Frenchman. “It was that dramatic game, yes. In the fifth set, everything happened, ”rewinds Nadal, who this Thursday spent an hour and a half on Court 2 to polish details, surrounded by his entire Praetorian guard.
“We have a lot of information about him, just like he about us,” warned his regular coach in the tournament, Carlos Moyà, while both tennis players, 35 years old and 20 great Spanish, 34 and 18 Balkan, have already arranged the pieces on the board after the tour of these two Parisian weeks. “We hope that he [Djokovic] move tab. Just as we try to move quickly to adjust things and make it more difficult for him, I suppose he will do it now because in the last five years it has not worked for him. In any case, we know how he plays and how good he is, so whoever can impose his game scheme will have more chances of winning ”, warns the coach.
Since he managed to rise to the top in Paris (2016) and suffered a decompression that made him consider retiring, Nole has offered a poor performance on brick dust. Although he set a couple of valuable titles in Madrid (2019) and the Foro Italico (2020), and recently took a snack in Belgrade, the Serbian does not find a way to sink his teeth into Nadal, who shot him in the final October and strategically you have not awarded a single slot. Excessively speculative, he has crashed five times against the Herculean dominance of the Balearic Islands on this surface and has tried different tactical variables without success.
“Last year he completely dominated the game, but the conditions were different,” says the king of the circuit. “The level that I have shown this last month gives me good feelings. I feel confident that I can beat him; otherwise, I would not be here, ”continues Djokovic, whose course to the semifinal has been marred by a more than considerable mistake against Lorenzo Musetti – he had to overcome two sets against the Italian – and a hectic night against Matteo Berrettini, in which He missed a set and was seen with an extra point of tension: shouting, threats and a kick to an advertising support.
Meanwhile, Nadal –11h 46m on the track, at 12h 31m from the opponent– had to neutralize Jannik Sinner’s impetuous start and, above all, correct himself against Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals to continue. In any case, the Spanish has transmitted greater authority and sufficiency to avoid the entanglements. “Djokovic always finds a way to escape; in fact, both always find one way or another to escape, with differences in the game, but they are born survivors ”, appreciates Moyà, 44 years old.
“Players as great as they are going from less to more in the tournament to save not only on physical, but above all on mental wear,” continues the Mallorcan, looking out of the corner of his eye at the other semifinal, between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev (15.00); “The final of 2020? It will be difficult to overcome it, I sign to match it. We do not expect a game like this, but one more similar to that of Rome, with alternatives and tough moments. Rafa is going to have difficulties, but we trust him a lot; if he is capable of playing at a high level… ”.