Djokovic is preparing for a big battle with his historic rival Nadal

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – ATP Masters 1000 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 16, 2021 Spain’s Rafael Nadal shakes hands with Serbian Novak Djokovic after winning the REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane final

PARIS – Novak Djokovic has predicted a “big battle” when he continues tennis’s most prolific rivalry in the Roland Garros semi-final on Friday against clay king Rafael Nadal.

The pair have faced each other 57 times, with Djokovic leading 29-28. But Nadal has been his nemesis at Roland Garros, winning seven of their eight clashes, including last year’s final which turned into a job of demolition.

Exceptionally, they meet in the semi-finals rather than the final, thanks to Spaniard Nadal who has dropped to third in the world and is in the same half of the draw as seed Djokovic.

If Djokovic manages to get the upper hand over Nadal on Friday, he will be favorites to win only his second title at Roland Garros after winning it in 2016 when Nadal dropped out of the tournament with a wrist injury.

Since then, Nadal has been unbeatable, extending his title record to 13.

“Obviously this is a highly anticipated semi-final,” Djokovic, who won 18 Grand Slam titles, two behind the men’s record shared by Nadal and Roger Federer, told reporters after beating big shots. Italian Matteo Berrettini 6-3 6-2 6-7 (5) 7-5 in an intense duel on Wednesday.

“It’s not a game like any other. Let’s face it, this is the biggest challenge you can have when playing on clay against Nadal on this court. It doesn’t get bigger than that.

“There is this tension and these additional expectations. The vibrations are different when walking on the court with him. But that’s why our rivalry has been historic I think for this sport.

“I’m confident. I believe I can win, or else I won’t be here. Let’s have a big battle.

Wednesday’s clash with Berrettini was played out in front of a noisy crowd of 5,000, until the 11pm curfew was called midway through the fourth set and the fans were gone.

Friday’s game will undoubtedly be played in a similar atmosphere as the two warriors face off again.

“I thought the atmosphere was like Davis Cup, to be honest,” Djokovic said of the first nighttime session allowed during the tournament, thanks to an easing of the 9 p.m. COVID-19 curfew in Paris.

“It was a lot of fans involved, every point cheering, shouting. Just an electric atmosphere there.

Djokovic will play his 11th semi-final at Roland Garros against Nadal, whose only defeats on Parisian clay were against Djokovic in 2015 and Robin Soderling in 2009.

Nadal claimed his 105th match victory at Roland Garros when he beat Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday, despite losing a set for the first time since the 2019 final.

Thinking of Djokovic, he said: “It’s always a big challenge. It’s something that’s good because we experience sport for those times. The downside is that it’s difficult because you’re playing against one of the best players in history.

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