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Preview: With High Stakes, Expect High Drama In Djokovic-Nadal SF

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2021

Playing Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is unlike any challenge in sports. The Spaniard is as comfortable on Court Philippe-Chatrier as Michael Phelps is swimming in a pool. So dominant is the legendary lefty on the Parisian terre battue that winning a set against him has been a major accomplishment.

When Nadal lost a set against Top 10 stalwart Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals, that snapped the 13-time champion’s 36-set winning streak at Roland Garros. On most occasions, Nadal doesn’t just win at the clay-court major; he dominates opponents. Any time a foe dares take a set, he overwhelms them with a tsunami-like wave of unrelenting offence and seemingly impenetrable defence to completely shift the momentum and drown a player’s hopes.

That has helped Nadal win 23 6-0 sets in Paris. That is why he is a jaw-dropping 105-2 at this tournament. But on Friday, one of the two men who has defeated the 35-year-old, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, will step up to face the ultimate challenge in sports once again.

“I’m confident,” Djokovic said. “I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

As they are at every tournament at this stage of their careers, Djokovic and Nadal are chasing history this fortnight. Nadal can move ahead of Roger Federer on the all-time Grand Slam titles list by earning his 21st major crown. Djokovic can claw closer to Federer and Nadal with his 19th and become the first man in the Open Era to win all four majors twice. The winner of this semi-final will be the favourite in the championship match against Stefanos Tsitsipas or Alexander Zverev.

This is a familiar hurdle for Djokovic, who likely would have lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires several times if not for the Spaniard. With a victory on Friday, the top seed will reach his sixth Roland Garros final, which would tie him for second all-time with Bjorn Borg.

But the 18-time Grand Slam champion knows how tough it will be to defeat Nadal. This will be their record 58th ATP Head2Head meeting, and their ninth clash at the clay-court major. Djokovic leads their epic rivalry 29-28, but trails at this event 1-7.

Most ATP Head2Head Meetings (Open Era)

 Players  # of Matches  Record
 Djokovic vs. Nadal  58*  Djokovic leads 29-28
 Djokovic vs. Federer  50  Djokovic leads 27-23
 Federer vs. Nadal  40  Nadal leads 24-16
 Connors vs. Lendl  36  Connors leads 23-13
 Djokovic vs. Murray  36  Djokovic leads 25-11
 Lendl vs. McEnroe  36  Lendl leads 21-15

The 34-year-old is an impressive 79-15 at Roland Garros, but nearly half of his losses have come against Nadal. The lefty has undoubtedly been his Paris nemesis. However, Nadal has also pushed Djokovic to greater heights. The Serbian enjoys rising to the occasion against Rafa, and he cherishes the opportunity to put his skills and resolve to the test.

“It’s not like any other match. Let’s face it, it’s the biggest challenge that you can have, playing on clay against Nadal on this court in which he has had so much success in his career,” Djokovic said. “In the final stages of a Grand Slam, it doesn’t get bigger than that.”

Playing each other almost makes things simpler. Both men know that if they do not bring their absolute best, they will likely lose.

“You need to play your best tennis. It’s a match that you know what you have to do if you really want to have chances to succeed and to keep going on the tournament,” Nadal said. “[It is] always a big challenge. That’s something that is good because in some way we are practising, we are living the sport for these moments.”

Most Roland Garros Finals

 Player  # of Finals
 Rafael Nadal  13
 Bjorn Borg  6

 Novak Djokovic 

 Henri Cochet  5
 Jaroslav Drobny  5
 Roger Federer  5
 Rene Lacoste  5
 Ivan Lendl  5
 Mats Wilander  5

The last two times Djokovic and Nadal have clashed in a Grand Slam semi-final, they produced unforgettable matches. At Wimbledon in 2018, Djokovic, who was still fighting to find his top form following struggles with his right elbow, defeated Nadal 10-8 in the fifth set.

The major semi-final they contested before that, at Roland Garros in 2013, remains one of the most crushing losses of Djokovic’s career. Nadal had still only tasted defeat once in Paris, and that came against Robin Soderling in 2009. Djokovic was World No. 1 and the Spaniard World No. 4. It seemed the Serbian would finally find a way to beat Rafa in his domain. But with the top seed serving at 4-3, 40/40 in a tension-filled fifth set, he inexplicably ran into the net while moving forward to put away an easy forehand volley. The Spaniard eventually won 9-7 in the decider.

Heading into this battle, Nadal provided an important reminder. As big as this feels, the winner will not lift the trophy. “It’s a semi-final. It’s not a final,” he said. “That’s a big difference. Even the winner of that match needs to keep going and [there] remains a lot of work to do to try to achieve the final goal here.”

More On Djokovic-Nadal LVIII
Learn About Their Rivalry In Paris
The Complete Djokovic-Nadal Rivalry
Novak On Facing Rafa: ‘It’s Not Like Any Other Match’
Nadal: ‘We Are Living The Sport For These Moments’

Djokovic learned that the hard way here in 2015. The Serbian beat Nadal in straight sets in the quarter-finals, and he was closing in on the Coupe des Mousquetaires, which had been his white whale. But instead, Stan Wawrinka left Paris with the title. It took Djokovic until 2016 to finally break through on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

You could talk about Djokovic and Nadal’s rivalry for days. However, the players don’t have the luxury of reflecting on it now. They have one thing in mind, and that is getting the win on Friday.

“Of course, the numbers are just amazing,” Nadal said. “But I can’t think about that now, honestly. Let’s talk about that when I finish my career.”

Two titans will clash, adding another chapter to one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports. But only one will move on. The other, inevitably, will be disappointed.

“We know each other well. Everybody knows that in these kind of matches anything can happen,” Nadal said. “The player who is playing better that day is the player that going to have better chances. That’s it. Probably if that happens, [it is] going to be an important match for both of us.”

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Brad Gilbert: Game Plan A, B & C for Djokovic v Nadal LVIII

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2021

When Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are at their best, there is normally little their opponents can do about it. But ahead of their blockbuster Roland Garros semi-final on Friday, former World No. 4 Brad Gilbert said that might not be the case when they meet on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“It’s an opportunity match. If you play your best, you might not win. It’s the ultimate test,” Gilbert told “Normally when they play their best, it might be good enough. But either one of them could be at their best and it might not be good enough if the other guy is at his best. Obviously there’s also history at stake and all these different things.”

This will be the record-extending 58th ATP Head2Head meeting between the all-time greats. This fortnight, Nadal, who is 105-2 at this tournament, is pursuing a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam championship. Djokovic is going for his 19th major trophy and trying to become the first player to defeat the Spaniard twice at Roland Garros.

“The greatness of Rafa is that he is just thinking about executing. Everybody is thinking about 21 [Grand Slams], all the potential possibilities. He says he’s not and I believe him,” Gilbert said. “I think Djoker is probably thinking more about history than Rafa. It could be distracting. But he kind of reminds me of the Metallica song, Fuel. I think it adds fuel to his fire.”

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal

Nadal has won seven of the pair’s eight clashes at Roland Garros, and five in a row on clay. Before that, from 2013 Beijing through 2016 Rome, Djokovic won 11 out of 12 matches against the lefty. Those shifts in the tide have come from micro-adjustments in game plans.

Within the first few games Friday, Gilbert will be looking for whether Nadal hits high, heavy balls deep in the court with his backhand. The former coach of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick believes that has been a key in Nadal’s past two victories against Djokovic, which came in last year’s Roland Garros final and this year’s Rome championship clash.

Listen To Gilbert’s Podcast

“Rafa didn’t try to go so aggressive. He was mixing in those high-looping balls and then maybe getting something a little more attractive on the next ball. He’s done a great job the past few matches of mixing in those high-looping balls,” Gilbert said. “I think Djoker will be expecting that Friday and maybe he’ll have something ready for that.

“If a guy is executing a high ball, if you don’t take it precisely early, you back up, it’s a tough ball. If Rafa doesn’t execute it and he hits it high and he doesn’t get length on it, then Djoker can jump on it. Everything about a looping ball has to be executed right. You have to get height, but then you have to get depth.”

More On Djokovic-Nadal LVIII
Learn About Their Rivalry In Paris
The Complete Djokovic-Nadal Rivalry
Novak On Facing Rafa: ‘It’s Not Like Any Other Match’
Nadal: ‘We Are Living The Sport For These Moments’

Gilbert put on the hat of Djokovic’s coach, Marian Vajda, to think of what Djokovic can do if Nadal throws those looping balls at him again.

“If it’s a hot and fast day, you might have to be a little more patient on those. You might have to just wait and not force taking the ball so early,” Gilbert said. “Or maybe you take a couple in the air with swinging volleys.”

In last year’s Roland Garros final, Djokovic hit 28 drop shots — 25 from his backhand wing — and won fewer than 50 per cent of those points. Gilbert, however, did not mind the Serbian trying to change things up.

“What happened if all of a sudden he won 10 or 12 of those and that rattled Rafa? He might not have seen that coming with the drop shot and it could have ended up being genius,” Gilbert said. “Maybe he thought going into the match that might work. That’s why I do think that they’re both a little bit like a rubix cube. It’s not going to just be, ‘I’m going left and you’re going right.’”

Twenty-time ATP Tour titlist Gilbert believes Djokovic has his most success against Nadal when he attacks the Spaniard’s forehand hard from the first ball.

“Whether or not that’s hitting a backhand crosscourt or a forehand inside-out, it is when he takes the rally hard and fast to the forehand on the first ball and then gets control of the rally,” Gilbert said. “When Rafa is much more lethal is when he is one or two steps around on the backhand side of the court hitting forehands and dictating play.

“Where Djokovic has more success is making Rafa pay in the forehand corner. Djoker will play more offence than he normally does.”

According to Gilbert, Friday’s clash will come down not to previous matches and records, but who is able to execute on the day, find the best level and make adjustments as necessary.

“The beauty of them is that their games have both evolved. They are doing different things than they were doing 15 years ago. They’re more well-rounded players as they’ve gotten older, so there are still adjustments to make,” Gilbert said. “It’s amazing that they’ve played this many times, but they’re still making little tweaks and adjustments on how to have success against each other. I think that’s the brilliance of the rivalry as well.”

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Preview: Will Tsitsipas Or Zverev Break New Ground In Paris?

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2021

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev have both lifted some of the biggest trophies in tennis, from the Nitto ATP Finals crown to ATP Masters 1000 glory. But they’ve never reached a final at Roland Garros, and have yet to win a Grand Slam title.

When these two meet on Friday on Court Philippe-Chatrier, who will break new ground and challenge Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal for the title in Paris?

For sixth seed Zverev, experience might hold the key in the youngest Grand Slam semi-final in over a decade. The clash between 24-year-old Zverev and 22-year-old Tsitsipas will feature the youngest combined age between semi-finalists since Andy Murray, 22, defeated Marin Cilic, 21, at the Australian Open in 2010. It is also the youngest Roland Garros semi-final since 22-year-old Nadal defeated 21-year-old Djokovic here in 2008.


The German has also been knocking on the door of a major breakthrough for a while now, and he has the mental edge of having been to a Grand Slam final last year at the US Open (l. Thiem). Zverev owns a 1-1 win-loss record in Grand Slam semi-finals, while Tsitsipas has yet to go past this stage on three occasions. 

Zverev also has more experience in fighting for – and clinching victory in – the biggest matches on the ATP Tour than his opponent, evidenced by his 17 tour-level titles, including four ATP Masters 1000s. Three of those have come on clay: at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in 2017 and the Mutua Madrid Open in 2018 and 2021. Zverev knows what it takes to make a breakthrough at the highest level.

“For a long period of time I was winning [ATP Masters 1000s], the Nitto ATP Finals, but I couldn’t get quite deep in Grand Slams,” Zverev reflected after his quarter-final victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. “I was putting bricks on myself. In a way, I was not performing to the level that I was in other tournaments. I was not playing the same level. I was very [impatient] with myself. 

“In the Grand Slams, they’re still a different animal. Two-week-long tournament, you play every other day, you play five sets. It’s very different. You got to learn how to play them… Hopefully I can say that slowly but surely I’m starting to get the hang of it.”

Zverev won his first meeting against Tsitsipas in Washington, D.C. in 2018, as well as his most recent on his way to the title in Acapulco this year. But in the interim, Tsitsipas recorded five wins in a row to dominate their 5-2 ATP Head2Head (1-0 on clay courts). 

Tsitsipas, the FedEx ATP Race To Turin leader, made his Masters 1000 breakthrough two months ago at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters to set himself apart as one of the players to beat in the clay-court swing. He added a seventh tour-level trophy to his collection in Lyon before arriving in Paris. 

The Greek has amassed a tour-leading 38 match wins on the season, including 21 on clay courts, another tour-leading figure. 

“I’m playing good. That will show by itself,” Tsitsipas assured after his straight-sets win over Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals. “I don’t think there’s a player out there [in the draw] that thinks they can’t win the tournament. I’m pretty sure they all know they can play well. 

“Of course I’m playing [well], and I think if I keep repeating the process, keep repeating the everyday hustle that I put [in], for sure there’s going to be a reward. And why not?”

He has also been thoroughly tested throughout the fortnight in Paris, but has come out on top each time at the expense of just one set in matches against Jeremy Chardy, Pedro Martinez, 31st seed John Isner, 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta and World No. 2 Medvedev. 

In fact, the average ranking of Tsitsipas’ opponents across his previous five matches is 42, while Zverev’s is 97 after playing qualifier Oscar Otte, qualifier Roman Safiullin, Laslo Djere, Kei Nishikori, and Davidovich Fokina on his way to the semi-finals. Zverev will be facing his first seeded opponent in Tsitsipas. 

In a match that could come down to the finest of margins, will it be battle-tested Tsitsipas or zoned-in Zverev who claims the victory – and moves to within one match of a Grand Slam breakthrough at Roland Garros?

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Andy Murray Receives Wild Card Into Queen's Club

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2021

Five-time cinch Championships winner Andy Murray has accepted a wild card into the ATP 500 tournament, which will be played from 14-20 June.

“The tournament at Queen’s has always meant a lot to me,” Murray said according to a release. “It’s where I won my first ATP match. I’ve won the singles at Queen’s more than any other [tournament] in my career, and I’ll never forget our doubles title in 2019. I can’t wait to get back out there.”

Murray has a 30-7 singles record at the grass-court tournament, where he has lifted the trophy in 2009, 2011-13 and 2015-16. In 2019, in his first tournament after undergoing hip surgery following the Australian Open, Murray won the doubles title at this event alongside Feliciano Lopez.

The World No. 123 last played singles in Rotterdam this March. Murray competed in doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, where he also trained with the likes of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Liam Broady also received a wild card into the main draw of the cinch Championships. The British lefty will pursue his first win at the tournament, where he competed in 2012 and 2017.

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Djokovic On Facing Nadal At Roland Garros: 'It's Not Like Any Other Match'

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2021

Beating Matteo Berrettini was one thing. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic knows that ousting 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal on Friday in the semi-finals will be an entirely different monster.

“It’s not like any other match. Let’s face it, it’s the biggest challenge that you can have: playing on clay against Nadal, on this court on which he has had so much success in his career, in the final stages of a Grand Slam. It doesn’t get bigger than that,” Djokovic said. “Of course, each time we face each other, there’s that extra tension and expectations. [The] vibes are different walking on the court with him. But that’s why our rivalry has been historic, I think, for this sport. I’ve been privileged to play him so many times.

“[My] rivalries with him and Roger [Federer] have made me a stronger player, allowed me to understand how I need to improve my game to get to the level where they were when I started playing professional tennis. I’ll probably pick Rafa as the biggest rival I’ve ever had in my career.

“The anticipation for the match against him — any match, any surface, any occasion — is always different from any other.”

Djokovic and Nadal have clashed a record 57 times in their legendary ATP Head2Head rivalry. Although the Serbian leads their series 29-28, he is 1-7 against the Spaniard at Roland Garros. That doesn’t scare the top seed, though.

“The quality and the level of tennis that I’ve been playing in the past three, four weeks on clay — [in] Rome, Belgrade and here — is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of that match,” Djokovic said. “I’m confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Let’s have a great battle.”

Djokovic is certainly locked into battle mode in Paris. The 2016 titlist fought hard to eliminate Berrettini in four sets. After clinching his victory, Djokovic let out a cathartic roar.

“This match had it all: falls, a crowd, a break. It was a lot of intensity. I just felt under tension the entire time,” Djokovic said. “I felt like I missed some of the chances to end the match in the third set. I didn’t want to give him too many opportunities to dictate the match. That’s why it was just super, super stressful to constantly be under pressure on my service games because his service games were quite smooth with [his] big serve.

“The reaction in the end was just me liberating that tension that was building up for the entire match.”

In their only previous meeting, Djokovic crushed Berrettini 6-2, 6-1 at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals. The World No. 1 had his hands full in Paris though, needing three hours and 24 minutes to advance.

“The crowd lifted him up. He was playing some really powerful tennis. Especially in the third and fourth, he served tremendously [hard] and precisely. It was just very difficult to read his serve and play someone like him,” Djokovic said. “He’s very talented. He can play well from the back of the court. He’s got a lethal forehand, drop shots… When he’s on, it’s tough to play him.”

The challenge will only get tougher against Nadal.

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