Facing Rafael Nadal for the 58th time today, with a place in the French Open final on the line, would be “a great battle” against Novak Djokovic’s “biggest ever rival,” the Serbian player said.
Djokovic on Wednesday secured the eagerly awaited clash when he reached his 40th Grand Slam semi-final with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5 win over Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.
It would be his 11th appearance in the last four in Paris, where he was champion in 2016.
Nadal, the 13-time winner, beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 to make the semi-finals for the 14th time.
He would be playing in his 35th Slam semi.
“I’ll probably pick Rafa as the biggest rival I’ve ever had in my career,” world No. 1 Djokovic said.
“The anticipation for the match against him, any match, any surface, any occasion, is always different from any other,” he said.
“Let’s have a great battle,” he added.
Although Djokovic has the edge at 29-28 in their overall rivalry stretching back 15 years, Nadal enjoys a 7-1 record in their French Open meetings and is 19-7 overall on clay.
Djokovic’s last win over the Spanish star on a clay court was in Rome five years ago.
Nadal’s record in Paris stands at 105 wins against just two losses.
One of those defeats was at the hands of Djokovic in 2015.
With Djokovic’s quarter-final extending beyond the national 11pm curfew, play was halted for about 20 minutes at 3-2 in the fourth set so that 5,000 fans could be funneled out of Court Philippe Chatrier.
Djokovic eventually claimed the match on a third match point in the 12th game, but only after he kicked out at an advertising board in frustration at missing the first two.
His scream told of his relief, as his bid to win a 19th Grand Slam and be the first man in more than 50 years to claim all four majors twice stayed on course.
“It was a release of all the emotions I had kept inside me,” said Djokovic, who hit 44 winners and saved all three break points he faced against the Italian.
“After all the fans left and the little break it wasn’t easy to find rhythm. It was really a very difficult match for me,” he said.
“It was a great battle against a player who serves well and is powerful. Maybe I could have finished on the tie break, but I’m happy to have won,” he added.
Nadal also has a landmark in view in Paris. If he gets to Sunday’s final and wins, he would secure a record-setting 21st major, edging ahead of Roger Federer in the all-time race.
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