Djokovic Looks To Complete Return To Form In 52nd Nadal Clash
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have played an Open Era-record 51 times. And on Friday, they will add another chapter to their historic rivalry in the Wimbledon semi-finals. It is their 39th meeting in the semi-finals or final at the biggest tournaments in tennis: the Grand Slams, the Nitto ATP Finals, ATP World Tour Masters 1000s and the Olympics.
But the world is used to watching them battle when they're both at the top of the sport. This time, while Nadal tries to emphatically cement his status as the best player in the world, Djokovic is attempting to show everyone that despite a slow return from injury, he is truly back in top form.
“That's a big thing. We’ve always played in important stages, important places,” Nadal said. “Friday is another important match against an opponent that is one of the most difficult ones that you can face. He's playing well."
The last time the pair met was on clay in the semi-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome under vastly different circumstances. Djokovic struggled to find his form early in 2018 as he recovered from a right elbow injury, entering that event just 6-6 on the campaign. But the 31-year-old played what was his best tournament of the year before hanging tough against Nadal in a straight-sets loss.
That showed that the Serbian was moving closer to the level that helped him to the top of the ATP Rankings for 223 weeks. And since, Djokovic has advanced to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, held championship point at the Fever-Tree Championships against Marin Cilic, and is now into his first major semi-final since the 2016 US Open.
“I'm really not thinking about being an underdog or being a favourite,” Djokovic said. “I just try to build momentum. Obviously I've been very pleased with the way I've played so far on the grass-court season.”
Most Tour-Level Meetings In Open Era Rivalry
|Players||Tour-Level Meetings||FedEx ATP Head2Head|
|Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal||52*||Djokovic leads 26-25|
|Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer||45||Djokovic leads 23-22|
|Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal||38||Nadal leads 23-15|
Jimmy Connors vs. Ivan Lendl
Connors leads 23-13
At SW19, the three-time Wimbledon champion is into his eighth semi-final, which is tied for fourth in the Open Era with john McEnroe and Pete Sampras. This will also be the No. 12 seed’s 32nd Grand Slam semi-final, which puts him in second in the Open Era ahead of Jimmy Connors.
But this may be Djokovic’s ultimate challenge. Nadal, who has won four titles this year including an 11th Roland Garros trophy, is not just 35-2 on the season. He is also fresh off an impressive five-set triumph against an in-form Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals. The Spaniard guaranteed that he will maintain his No.1 ATP Ranking by reaching the Round of 16, and is hungry for more.
“It’s always a big challenge facing Novak. He’s one of the more complex players that I’ve ever seen in our sport. It’s always a big test. You know that you can't win against him if you don't play very well,” Nadal said. “But my goal is to try to play very well. I know in the semi-finals of Wimbledon you will not have an easy opponent in front [of you]. You have to accept that if you want to win important things, of course you will face the best players. You need to be ready for it.”
Nadal has won their two most recent FedEx ATP Head2Head series meetings, but Djokovic has triumphed in 11 of their past 14 matches. And while they have played one another more than any rivals in the sport — this is their 52nd meeting — this will be just their third clash in 26 months.
Most Grand Slam Meetings In Open Era Rivalry
|Players||Grand Slam Meetings||Win-Loss Record|
|Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer||15||Djokovic leads 9-6|
|Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal||14*||Nadal leads 9-4|
|Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal||12||Nadal leads 9-3|
|Tomas Berdych vs. Roger Federer
Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray
Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe
|10|| Federer leads 8-2
Djokovic leads 8-2
Lendl leads 7-3
Read & Watch: Nadal Edges Delpo In Epic
It will be interesting to see who wins the battle in crosscourt rallies in the Ad court between Nadal’s forehand and Djokovic’s two-handed backhand. In recent meetings, Djokovic has shown the ability to absorb the Spaniard’s forehand and use it to gain an advantage by going down the line.
If he remains comfortable with those patterns and is able to keep Nadal from dictating off that wing with one of the sport’s legendary strokes, he might be able to spring the upset. That is the reason the No. 2 seed knows he must be on top of his game.
“If you don't play very well, you will not have the chance to win,” Nadal said. “But I hope to be ready to play very well, and let's see what's going on. I know he's playing very well.”
Is Djokovic ready to take arguably the biggest step of his comeback to reach his 22nd Grand Slam final? It is tough for the Serbian to compare where his game is now to where it was when he was at his best, but he is confident heading into the semi-finals.
“I think it's pretty close. Again, it's kind of hard to copy anything, right? I don't like that. I usually like to recreate something. I know, as everything in life, we are evolving. I'm a different person, different player today,” Djokovic said. “[But] I like the level of tennis that I'm playing right now. I really do. I think with the performances I've had, I deserve to be in the semi-finals. I don't want to stop here. I hope I can get a chance to fight for a trophy.”