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Preview: Djokovic, Nadal Chase Grand Slam History At Roland Garros

  • Posted: Oct 10, 2020

When Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal step onto Court Philippe-Chatrier on Sunday, they will be contesting one of the most important matches in their storied ATP Head2Head rivalry.

The top two players in the FedEx ATP Rankings have battled for the biggest titles on the grandest stages in the sport since their first meeting at this event in 2006, but their eighth clash on the Parisian terre battue (Nadal leads 6-1) and their 56th ATP Head2Head encounter (Djokovic leads 29-26) has added importance. Both men are chasing Grand Slam history.

Here’s how to watch from 3pm CEST/9am EDT

On one side of the net, Djokovic is aiming to become the first man in the Open Era to win all four Grand Slam titles on multiple occasions. A win would also see him move just one major title away from Nadal and two behind record holder and 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.

“I’ve played [Rafa] more than I [have] played any other player in my professional career,” said Djokovic. “Our head-to-head is the biggest head-to-head ever in the history of the sport. The amount of matches we played is almost 60 matches… He’s definitely my greatest rival.”

For the first time, Nadal is one win away from equalling Federer’s Grand Slam titles record. The 19-time major titlist will be aiming to add a record-extending 13th Roland Garros crown to his collection and become the first player to win 100 matches at Roland Garros (99-2).

”To play against Novak, I need to play my best. Without playing my best tennis, [the] situation is very difficult,” said Nadal. “I know this is a court that I have been playing well [on] for such a long time, so that helps. But at the same time, he has an amazing record here too, being in the final rounds almost every single time.”

Grand Slam Titles Leaderboard

Rank Player Titles
1 Roger Federer 20
2 Rafael Nadal 19
3 Novak Djokovic 17
4 Pete Sampras 14
5 Roy Emerson 12

In the early stages of their rivalry, Nadal owned a clear edge. The Mallorcan dominated the centre of the court with his forehand and used his greater experience to claim 14 victories from his opening 18 clashes against Djokovic.

In recent times, Djokovic has mirrored that record. The Serbian has won 14 of their 18 most recent contests by imposing his brand of tennis on Nadal. Djokovic has improved his serve, which has helped push Nadal behind the baseline and into defensive positions. The World No. 1 has also used his backhand to great effect, taking Nadal’s heavily spun forehand in his stride and firing the ball crosscourt and down the line with high levels of consistency.

”[He] is one of the toughest opponents possible. But I am here to keep trying my best,” said Nadal. “I like to play in this scenario. I know I have to make a step forward. I think I did one [on Friday]. But for Sunday [it] is not enough. I need to make another one. That’s what I’m looking for. I [am] going to work hard to try to make that happen.”

Conditions have often played a key part in the outcome of Djokovic and Nadal’s matches. Djokovic has dominated his rival on hard courts, winning all of their past nine meetings on the surface in straight sets.

But Nadal owns the crucial advantage on clay. The 12-time champion holds a 17-7 record against his rival on the dirt, including wins in their past three meetings on the surface at ATP Masters 1000 events in Rome and Madrid.

Rafael Nadal improves to 96-2 at Roland Garros.

Due to the tournament’s position in the calendar this year, the cold conditions in Paris could influence the pair’s record-equalling ninth major final. Djokovic and Nadal both own four victories against each other in Grand Slam championship matches.

“We all know that the conditions and the circumstances are obviously different from what we are used to. It’s going to be interesting to see how his game and my game match up, how it all plays out on Sunday,” said Djokovic.

“Depending on what the temperature is as well. That affects a lot the court, whether it’s heavy, not bouncing much, slippery, windy. All these things can affect I think both of us mentally and our games.”

En route to the quarter-finals, Djokovic claimed four straight-sets victories and spent just seven hours and 32 minutes on court. In his past two matches against Pablo Carreno Busta and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 2016 champion needed a combined seven hours and four minutes to reach his fifth Roland Garros final (1-3).

Despite struggling with neck and shoulder issues against Carreno Busta, Djokovic expressed confidence on Friday that he would have no issues recovering in time for his third Roland Garros final against Nadal (Nadal leads 2-0).

“I’m not feeling exhausted physically so much after tonight’s match, obviously [the match lasted] almost four hours,” said Djokovic on Friday. “It was a great battle. But I feel fine. I think a day and a half will be plenty of time for me to recover. I’m really looking forward to a great battle with Rafa.”

Novak Djokovic is chasing his 18th Grand Slam title.

Nadal’s path to the final has been more straightforward. For the sixth time, the second seed has made it to the final in Paris without dropping a set. But Nadal has still been tested during the event. In the third set of his semi-final clash against Diego Schwartzman, the 34-year-old twice surrendered a break advantage and was forced to save three break points serving at 5-5.

“Going through these moments playing that aggressive with the forehand, knowing that you can have success like this, makes me feel positive and makes me feel confident. That helps, of course, for the future,” said Nadal.

As one of only two men to have defeated Nadal at Roland Garros, alongside Sweden’s Robin Soderling, Djokovic will use his straight-sets win against Nadal in the 2015 quarter-finals for inspiration. With a 37-1 record this year, the top seed is in peak form. The question is, can he rise to the occasion and overcome one of the biggest challenges in sport for the second time?

“I’m in the last match of the tournament, playing against the biggest rival, the biggest obstacle and challenge that you can have. This is what it comes down to,” said Djokovic.

“I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I understand what needs to be done and how I need to prepare myself. I’m looking forward to it.”

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Stats To Know Before The Djokovic-Nadal Roland Garros Final

  • Posted: Oct 10, 2020

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet for a record 56th time in their ATP Head2Head series on Sunday in the Roland Garros final. History is on the line for both, as Djokovic is trying to become the first man in the Open Era to complete two Career Grand Slams, and Nadal is attempting to tie Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 major titles.

Before the highly anticipated clash, looks at stats you need to know about how the legends have performed at Roland Garros this year, their historic rivalry and more.

Djokovic & Nadal: Stats At 2020 Roland Garros
Second seed Nadal has been opportunistic this year on the Parisian terre battue, converting 38 of his 48 break points (79.2%). Entering the match, the Spaniard’s career break point conversion rate was 45 per cent.

 Novak Djokovic  Stat  Rafael Nadal
 74.8%  1st-Serve Winning %  71.1%
 52.8%  2nd-Serve Winning %  63.4%
 248  Winners  181
 183  Unforced Errors  135
 53.2%  Break Points Won  79.2%
 79.6%  Break Points Saved  74.1%

Djokovic and Nadal both reached the quarter-finals without losing a set. Nadal continued his clean run with two more straight-sets victories to make his 13th final, but Djokovic needed four sets against Pablo Carreno Busta in the last eight and five sets against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals.

 Novak Djokovic  Stat  Rafael Nadal
 18  Sets Won  18
 3  Sets Lost  0
 121  Games Won  110
 59  Games Lost  46
 67.2%  Games Won %  70.5%

Inside The Djokovic-Nadal Rivalry: Five Fast Facts
– The winner of the first set has won their past 13 matches. The player who has earned the first set is 48-7 overall.
– One of the seven times a player has come from a set down in their rivalry came in the 2014 Roland Garros final, which Nadal won in four sets.
– Nadal (99-2) and Djokovic (74-14) are No. 1 and No. 2 in Roland Garros wins, respectively.
– This is Djokovic and Nadal’s first Roland Garros clash since 2015, won by Djokovic in straight sets. Nadal won their other six battles at this tournament.
– Djokovic has won 10 of their past 13 meetings, with nine of those victories coming in straight sets.

Djokovic vs. Nadal: Records

 Novak Djokovic  Matches  Rafael Nadal
 29  ATP Head2Head Series  26
 6  Grand Slams  9
 4  Grand Slam Finals  4
 15  Tour-Level Finals  11
 7  Clay  17
 1  Roland Garros  6

Sunday’s final will have historic repercussions. Nadal could tie Federer’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles with a victory. The Spaniard has never been tied with the Swiss on this leaderboard.

Grand Slam Titles (all-time) Depending On Sunday’s Result

 With Nadal Win  With Djokovic Win
 T1) Rafael Nadal – 20  1) Roger Federer – 20
 T1) Roger Federer – 20  2) Rafael Nadal – 19
 3) Novak Djokovic – 17  3) Novak Djokovic – 18 
 4) Pete Sampras -14  4) Pete Sampras – 14
 5) Roy Emerson -12  5) Roy Emerson – 12

Djokovic and Nadal will be playing each other in a record-tying ninth Grand Slam final (tied 4-4). The only other rivals to do that are Nadal and Roger Federer. 

Most Grand Slam Singles Finals (Open Era)

 Players  Slam Finals  H2H Record
 Djokovic vs. Nadal  9*  4-4
 Federer vs. Nadal  9  Nadal 6-3
 Djokovic vs. Murray  7  Djokovic 5-2
 Agassi vs. Sampras  5  Sampras 4-1
 Djokovic vs. Federer  5  Djokovic 4-1
 Lendl vs. Wilander  5   Wilander 3-2

*includes Sunday’s final
This will be the pair’s third Roland Garros championship clash. Nadal triumphed in 2012 and 2014, emerging victorious in four sets on each occasion.

Most RG Singles Finals (Open Era)

 Players  RG Finals  H2H Record
 Federer vs. Nadal  4  Nadal 4-0
 Djokovic vs. Nadal  3*  Nadal 2-0
 Borg vs. Vilas  2  Bord 2-0
 Laver vs. Rosewall  2  Tied 1-1
 Lendl vs. Wilander  2  Tied 1-1
 Nadal vs. Thiem  2  Nadal 2-0

*includes Sunday’s final
Djokovic and Nadal have met a record 55 times, and their battle in Paris will be a record 27th tour-level final meeting between two rivals.

Most Tour-Level Singles Finals (Open Era)

 Players  Slam Finals  H2H Record
 Djokovic vs. Nadal  27*  Djokovic 15-11
 Federer vs. Nadal  24  Nadal 14-11
 Djokovic vs. Federer  20  Djokovic 14-6
 Djokovic vs. Murray  19  Djokovic 11-8
 Lendl vs. McEnroe  17  McEnroe 10-7

*includes Sunday’s final
Nobody has beaten Nadal at majors more than Djokovic and vice versa. The Serbian is pursuing his seventh Slam victory against the lefty, and the Spaniard is trying for his 10th major win against the World No. 1.

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Unbeaten Champions: Krawietz/Mies Claim Second Straight Roland Garros Title

  • Posted: Oct 10, 2020

Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies captured their second straight Roland Garros doubles title on Saturday, beating US Open champions Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares 6-3, 7-5.

The German pair extended their unbeaten record at the clay-court Grand Slam championship to 12-0, saving all five break points they faced to triumph in 89 minutes. On their tournament debut last year, Krawietz and Mies became the first all-German team in the Open Era to capture a Grand Slam men’s doubles trophy.

“It is hard to describe what is going through our heads right now. It is unbelievable,” said Mies. “I think this achievement is even bigger than winning last year. To win a Grand Slam title is always big, but to defend it is even more difficult. It is incredible that we did and we are unbelievably happy right now. We cannot believe it.

“It took a while last year to let it sink in, it took probably until coming back here at the beginning of the tournament to realise it. Now to win it again is unbelievable.”

Krawietz and Mies returned with aggression throughout the championship match. The eighth seeds earned a single break in each set, with Krawietz notably mixing pace and precision on his forehand to break through Pavic and Soares at the net. The Germans dropped to the clay after Soares netted a forehand on their second championship point.

“In the moment we won the match point, it was a such a big relief,” said Mies. “It was such a close game. I wish I could have served it out easier, but it was difficult. Of course, you have some nerves in the end, but we are super happy to win it again and [I am] super proud of us as a team and proud of everyone involved.”

Krawietz and Mies are only the fourth team in the Open Era to win back-to-back Roland Garros crowns. The four-time tour-level titlists are the first pair to achieve the feat since Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor in 2012.

Back-To-Back Roland Garros Men’s Doubles Champions

Team Years
Yevgeny Kafelnikov/Daniel Vacek 1996-97
Jonas Bjorkman/Max Mirnyi 2005-06
Max Mirnyi/Daniel Nestor 2011-12
Kevin Krawietz/Andreas Mies 2019-20

Krawietz and Mies dropped just one set en route to the title. The two-time Roland Garros titlists earned three consecutive victories against seeded opposition from the quarter-final stage, having beaten 13th seeds Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski and ninth seeds Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic to reach the championship match. The pair has lost a combined three sets across their 12 victories on the Parisian terre battue.

“To be a part of the history is always a bonus point,” said Krawietz. “Of course, we like to hear that we wrote history today… We are super proud of it. No losses here at Roland Garros is crazy.”

Just six months ago, the Germans could not have imagined they would be standing in Paris with their second major crown. During the ATP Tour suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mies helped deliver fruit to at-risk communities through his association with the Special Olympics. Krawietz woke up at 5 a.m. to stack shelves at a local supermarket in Munich.

Pavic and Soares were also attempting to clinch their second Grand Slam title as a team. Last month, the Croatian-Brazilian tandem earned their maiden major title as a pair at the US Open.

Pavic and Soares beat two of the top three seeded teams en route to the final. The seventh seeds overcame Australian Open champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury in the quarter-finals and top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah in the semi-finals.

“[It was] another great run,” said Soares on court. “Hopefully we get a chance next year to go one further.”

With their victory against Pavic and Soares, Krawietz and Mies become only the third and fourth German players to win multiple major doubles titles. The team joins Claudia Kohde-Kilsch and Philipp Petzschner in the exclusive club.

German Multiple Grand Slam Doubles Champions

Player Titles Events
Claudia Kohde-Kilsch 2 1985 US Open, 1987 Wimbledon
Philipp Petzschner 2 2010 Wimbledon, 2011 US Open
Kevin Krawietz 2 2019-20 Roland Garros
Andreas Mies 2 2019-20 Roland Garros

Krawietz and Mies earn 2,000 FedEx ATP Doubles Ranking points and split €319,652 in prize money. Pavic and Soares collect 1,200 points and share €188,030.

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14 Years Ago, Novak Warned The World. Was Anyone Listening?

  • Posted: Oct 10, 2020

The first installment of what has evolved into one of sport’s great rivalries is better remembered for what happened after the match.

Rafael Nadal, then a baby-faced, Capri-pant wearing 20-year-old with shoulder length locks, was leading a brash youngster named Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4 at Roland Garros before the Serbian retired with back pain. Nadal, the No. 2 seed and defending champion that year, won 58 per cent of the points, but Djokovic remained undaunted in the post-match press conference.

“I think I was in control, everything was depending on me,” said Djokovic. “Even with the sore back, I think I played an equal match with him… He’s not unbeatable, he’s beatable.”

Reporters later asked Nadal if he agreed with Djokovic’s contention that he was in control of the match, and he smiled and shyly replied with his trademark chin shrug, “Oh yes, I don’t know, if he say that, it’s okay, I don’t need to answer then.”

The room erupted in laughter, half in response to Nadal’s shy insouciance and half to the impertinence of this still obscure 19-year-old, ranked No. 63 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. It wasn’t the first or last time the world underestimated the audacious Belgrade native. Perhaps only he knew that he’d evolve into one of Nadal’s great rivals and the defeat served to motivate him.

Born 11 months and three frontiers apart, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 players return to the same court Sunday — where their rivalry began 14 years ago — with history on the line. Nadal and Djokovic have evolved and changed over the years.

The boyish prankster who used to impersonate Rafa (and plenty of others) is now a family man, while Nadal has grown up too, shedding the pirate pants, if not his superstitions. So too has their rivalry evolved, with Djokovic taking the upper hand of late. After a rocky start, the 33-year-old has won 10 of their 13 most recent meetings since 2015 and 29 out of 55 overall.

They last met just nine months ago at the ATP Cup, but that feels like years ago with all that’s transpired this year. Sunday’s final is one for the ages, with enormous consequences for the history of the sport. A Nadal victory would give him 20 majors at the age of 34 and a share of the sport’s most coveted record with his other storied rival, Roger Federer, who earned his 20th Grand Slam title aged 36 at the 2018 Australian Open.

But a win for the proud Serb would give him 18 majors, putting him in touching distance of his two rivals heading into his favorite major: the Australian Open. Djokovic has won that event on a record eight occasions, including four of the past six years.

With a win, the World No. 1 would also complete the double Career Grand Slam, an achievement that’s eluded one-time Roland Garros winner Federer and one-time Australian Open champion Nadal. The desert? Let’s liken the fact that a win would extend Djokovic’s near-perfect season to the kind of palačinke, or Serbian crepe, his parents used to serve up at their snack bar in Kopaonik when Novak was a boy.

But for all the gaudy milestones at stake, a win for Djokovic wouldn’t just be about numbers. Despite taking a 37-1 match record on the season into the final, victory would be the ultimate vindication after a tumultuous year that included his disqualification from the US Open for accidentally hitting a lineswoman with a ball.

The Serb, who has won just one of seven meetings with Nadal at Roland Garros, has a large, fanatical following, particularly in the Balkans, where he is revered. But because he emerged after Federer and Nadal, and because he’s played so well against these two incredibly popular athletes, he has, at times, found himself fighting not just his opponents but also the crowds in some arenas.

The fact that he’s been underestimated at times, particularly earlier in his career, still propels him and he’s well aware that unless he wins more majors than Federer and Nadal, he likely won’t be considered the greatest of all time, even if he maintains his winning ATP Head2Head records against them both. A win Sunday brings him much closer to staking his claim to being the sport’s GOAT, a title he clearly covets.

The stakes for the ferocious Mallorcan are no less important. Court Philippe-Chatrier is Nadal’s court. He has to hold serve. Djokovic acknowledged as much after his victory over Tsitsipas Friday.

“It’s his ‘maison’,” Djokovic said of Nadal, referring to the French word for house. “I will have to be at my best. Playing Nadal at Roland Garros is the biggest challenge in our sport.”

For his part, Nadal characteristically tried to downplay talk of the historic occasion Friday.

“I understand these things, and it’s good for tennis that people talk about this,” said Nadal. “But I am living my own reality, and when it’s finished and it’s achieved or not, it will be talked about.”

It is indeed his own reality, but for a ferociously competitive warrior like Nadal—who’s afraid of animals, including dogs, but little else—watching his Serbian rival hoist La Coupe des Mousquetaires in his ‘maison’ would no doubt feel like walking into his home only to find Novak wearing his slippers and bathrobe, relaxing on his favourite recliner, sipping a fine Serbian rakija.

The Spaniard has beaten Djokovic twice in the Roland Garros final – in 2012 and 2014 — but he denies that those encounters will help him Sunday.

“Different circumstances, different kind of tournament and different situation,” said Nadal, who is going for his 100th win at Roland Garros Sunday. “I can’t predict the future. The only thing I know is to play against Novak, I need to play my best. Without playing my best tennis, [the] situation is very difficult.”

One man or the other will lift La Coupe des Mousquetaires Sunday, but when these warriors square off, it isn’t just the victor who triumphs, the whole sport wins. The level of tennis is always sublime and each man competes like a hungry pit bull fighting for a meal, pushing each other to dig just a bit further than they knew possible. There will be just one victor in Nadal Djokovic LVI, but it’ll be a win for the ages we can all savour.

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