Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are both chasing history, as they meet for a 56th time in the French Open final on Sunday.
For the Spaniard, victory over the world No 1 would secure his 13th French Open title and mean that he levels Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles.
In Djokovic’s case, and 18th Grand Slam title awaits and victory would see him become the first man in the Open Era to win all four Slam titles at least twice
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It’s the final that many anticipated ahead of the tournament, however Nadal’s loss to Diego Schwartzman at the Italian Open on clay, and Djokovic’s issues against Pablo Carreno-Busta earlier in Paris, caused slight concern for fans of both.
However, when it came to their respective semi-finals they each showed they’re on track to peak at just the right time.
Grand Slam Titles Won – Before Sunday’s Final
In the first semi-final, Nadal took the opportunity to avenge his loss in Rome to Schwartzman and maintain his record of not losing a set so far this year at Roland Garros.
After close early exchanges, he opened up on Court Philippe Chatrier and believes that the contest has set him up well for what’s to come.
“[It is] an important victory for me against a very tough player. To win against Diego, you have to work a lot and you have to play well for such a long time,” Nadal said.
“To play against Novak, I need to play my best. Without playing my best tennis, the situation is very difficult.
“I know this is a court that I have been playing well [on] for such a long time, so that helps. At the same time, he has an amazing record here too, being in the final rounds almost every single time.”
I know I have to make a step forward. I did against Diego but for Sunday, it’s not enough. I need to make another one. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m going to work hard to try to make that happen.
The world No 1 will need to step up too, with Nadal having played 101 matches at Roland Garros and lost just two.
In the end, Djokovic’s 6-3 6-2 5-7 4-6 6-1 semi-final win against Stefanos Tsitsipas was more straightforward than the score suggests. Plus, he didn’t appear to be struggling as much physically, as he had in the previous round against Pablo Carreno Busta.
“I was definitely not pleased with the way I played the finishing stages of the third and fourth sets [against Stefanos], but I was very pleased with the way I kept my composure mentally throughout the entire match,” Djokovic said.
Grateful #RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/5LmxTY5zyc
The world No 1 is fully aware that Nadal is a different kettle of fish to anyone else at Roland Garros. However, he’s taking a good deal of self-belief into Sunday’s encounter and believes there are elements which favour him.
“Obviously the conditions are different than the ones that we are used to playing in May and June,” he said.
“I think that could be a better chance for me, obviously the ball not bouncing as high over the shoulder as he likes it usually. Regardless of the conditions, he’s still there, he’s Rafa, he’s in the finals and we’re playing on clay.
“Best-of-five, playing him in the finals at Roland Garros, I know that feeling. I did lose to him on this court most of the matches that we played, but I also won one match in 2015 in straight sets.
“That’s the match that I’ll look back at and obviously try to take some positives out of it and use it tactically against him.”
When it comes to their head-to-head record, Djokovic holds a 29-26 advantage over Nadal and has won three of their last four meetings.
Against top opposition this year, the world No 1 has an 8-0 record but a few questions remain. First, will Djokovic’s physical condition withstand the relentless nature of Nadal? Has he really got rid of the ailments he felt against Carreno-Busta?
Second, how much more is there to come from Nadal? He’s highlighted his need to step up, what will the context of a final at the tournament he loves so much, do to his game?
This championship decider will be ninth Grand Slam that Nadal and Djokovic have contested, and with conditions set to be fine and dry in Paris, it could be another thriller between two of the very best in the business.
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