Djokovic, Nadal face off for 59th time in French Open blockbuster

Serbia's Novak Djokovic shakes hands with Spain's Rafael Nadal

File – Serbia’s Novak Djokovic joins hands with Rafael Nadal of Spain to win their semifinal match at the 2021 French Open. Reuters / Sarah Masonier

Novak Djokovic renewed his 16-year rivalry with Rafael Nadal at the French Open on Tuesday and his place in the semifinals is at stake, where a victory for world number one could end the career of 13-time champion Roland Garros.

Nadal, 36, holds the record for most 109 wins and just three defeats in Paris since his title-winning debut against the defending champions in 2005.

In the fourth round, 21-year-old Felix Agar-Aliasime led the Spaniard to five sets for just the third time in the tournament.

Shortly after that victory, Nadal acknowledged that not only was this year’s French Open at stake, but his entire future was at stake.

“I know my situation, and I accept it,” said Nadal, who arrived in Paris unsure whether he would be able to take part in the aftermath of a chronic leg injury that has plagued him for most of his career.

“I am just happy to be here for another year. And to be honest, every match I play here, I don’t know if it will be my last at Roland Garros.

Overall, Djokovic has led Nadal 30-28 since the first meeting of his career at the 2006 French Open.

Nadal is 19-8 on the ground and has won seven of the pair’s nine meetings in Paris.

Djokovic, however, climbed to the top in 2021 on his way to a second title win at the Roland Garros semifinals.

Fear of the night

The defeat dealt a physical blow to Nadal, who then skipped Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open.

When Djokovic was expelled from Melbourne on the eve of the Australian Open, Nadal used the opportunity to claim the record-setting 21st Grand Slam title, breaking a tie with Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Both are playing in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros for the 16th time.

Djokovic effortlessly rose to the last eight. He has won 22 sets in a row, a run extending to his Italian Open win in Rome.

“I’m glad I didn’t spend too much time on the court until the quarter-finals, knowing that Nadal’s game at Roland Garros was always a physical fight,” Djokovic said.

Adding an extra twist was the battle of wills over scheduling which Nadal lost on Monday when the organizers chose the quarter-finals for the night’s session under the lights of Court Philippe Chatterjee.

“I don’t like to play on the ground at night because the humidity is high, the ball is slow, and there can be very heavy situations, especially when it’s cold,” Nadal said.

Djokovic indicated that he would like to face Nadal as soon as possible.

“All I have to say is Rafa and I will make various requests,” he said.

Nadal’s coach Carlos Moya said the Spaniard’s opinion should have carried weight.

“I wouldn’t say disrespectful, but here at Roland Garros, Rafa has credit,” Moya told RMC Sport.

“He has won the tournament 13 times, and if he has a request, you should listen to him. He is part of the history of Roland Garros. “

“But in the end, it’s a business question and we understand that.”

Carlos Alcaraz, who confronted Alexander Zaverev, said it would be “unfair” if he was instructed to play for the third time after 9pm.

Alcarez show

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - May 29, 2022 Spain's Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning the fourth round match against Russia's Karen Khachanov REUTERS / Pascal Rossignol

Tennis – French Open – Roland Garros, Paris, France – May 29, 2022 Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning the fourth round match against Russia’s Karen Khachanov REUTERS / Pascal Rossignol

Alcaraz, 19, is the youngest person to make the last eight in Paris since Djokovic in 2006.

He boasts a record of 20 wins against just one loss on the 2022 claycourt. For years, his age is 32-3.

The sixth-seeded had to save a match point to beat compatriot Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round but otherwise there was no burden of expectations.

Alcaraz tackled third-seeded Zverev, who beat Germany in the final of the Madrid Masters, where he knocked out both Nadal and Djokovic.

Zaverev added spice to the tie, claiming that Alcaraz was being favored by the organizers who have so far given the teenager three out of four matches in Chatterjee.

Olympic champion Chatterjee described the game as “completely different” from other courts. “It’s like playing on another continent.”

With Djokovic, Nadal, Zaverev and Alcaraz battling to the top of the draw, second-ranked Daniel Medvedev and 2021 runners-up Stefanos Sitsipas have been knocked out of the fourth round, leaving the bottom wide open.

As a result, Holger Rune, Caspar Rudd, Andre Rublev or Marin Cilic will be in the final on Sunday.

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