Novak & Rafa: The Rivalry
A recap of every match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal...
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have met more than any other two players in the Open Era, a record 52 times. Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 27-25 and has won eight of their past 10 contests, with the Serbian winning their most recent meeting in the 2018 Wimbledon semi-finals. Here is a history of the duo's 52 career matches:
2018 Wimbledon SF, grass, Djokovic d. Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 3-6, 10-8
It was clear that Djokovic had climbed closer to his best form ahead of the pair's semi-final at The Championships, hanging tough against Nadal in Rome, reaching the Roland Garros quarter-finals and finishing runner-up at The Queen's Club. But could the Serbian overcome the greatest challenge of his comeback from a right elbow injury against World No. 1 Nadal, who was 35-2 on the season?
It turned out that the great rivals were evenly matched, with Djokovic saving five break points in a thrilling fifth set before triumphing after five hours and 15 minutes. And fittingly, they both hit 73 winners to just 42 unforced errors in the classic.
Djokovic earned his first Grand Slam semi-final win against Nadal to reach his fifth Wimbledon final, claiming the signature victory of his comeback to advance to his first major championship match since the 2016 US Open. Nadal had won 16 consecutive matches in the last four at Slams, but he bowed out after making his deepest run at the All England Club since 2011, when he lost in the final.
2018 Internazionali BNL d'Italia SF, clay, Nadal d. Djokovic 7-6(4), 6-3
Entering the pair's first meeting in more than a year, Nadal was the clear favourite. The top seed had won 50 consecutive sets on clay — a record for the most sets claimed in a row on a single surface — before falling in the Madrid quarter-finals the previous week. And it was tough to tell how high Djokovic, still recovering from a right elbow injury, would be able to raise his level.
But the Serbian played excellent tennis, especially in the first set, comfortably finding the sharpest of angles from the backhand corner to give Nadal fits. But toward the end of the opening set, the Spaniard began to unleash his forehand down the line, therefore changing court positioning and taking control of baseline rallies, leading to his eventual victory.
It was an important win for Nadal, earning his 356th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 match victory to break a tie with Roger Federer (355) for the most in history. The 31-year-old also moved within one triumph of reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the ATP Rankings after dropping to No. 2 with his loss in Madrid. The triumph not only showed Nadal's great form, but also that Djokovic, despite competing in just his first semi-final of 2018, is on his way back to his top level.
2017 Mutua Madrid Open SF, clay, Nadal d. Djokovic 6-2, 6-4
During their historic 50th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, Nadal decidedly turned the tables on Djokovic, thoroughly outplaying the defending champion to reach his eighth Mutua Madrid Open final. Djokovic had owned their rivalry during recent years. The Serbian had won 15 consecutive sets and seven straight matches against Nadal.
It had been nearly three years since the “King of Clay” had prevailed against Djokovic – the 2014 Roland Garros final. But Nadal dominated from the start during their 50th meeting in Madrid, aggressively smashing forehands and confidently hitting backhand winners. Djokovic would make it a match in the second set but Nadal served out the final after one hour and 38 minutes.
The win further solidified Nadal's place in history as the greatest clay-court player and showed the tennis world that the Spaniard is back in top form. He improved to 14-0 in clay-court matches this season and will play for his third clay-court crown of the year, after winning a record 10th title at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell earlier this season.
2016 Internazionali BNL d'Italia QF, clay, Djokovic d. Nadal 75 76(4)
In their closest contest for almost two years, Djokovic rallied from a break down in both sets to thwart an in-form and enthusiastic Nadal. The Serb extended his recent mastery over the Spaniard to move into the Rome semi-finals for the 10th consecutive year. Djokovic has now won the past seven matches and 15 sets against Nadal.
The World No. 1 leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 26-23. He also moved within two matches of winning his 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.
2016 BNP Paribas Open SF, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 76(5) 62
Djokovic earned the opportunity to play for an unprecedented fifth BNP Paribas Open title after edging Nadal in the semi-finals at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. In the pair’s 48th meeting – an Open Era record on the ATP World Tour – the Serb claimed his sixth straight win over Nadal and has won 13 consecutive sets against the Spaniard.
Djokovic would go on to win the BNP Paribas Open final and join Nadal with a record 27 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles. The World No. 1 has won seven of the past 10 Masters 1000 events. Despite the loss, however, Nadal said he gained confidence from playing Djokovic better than he has in their recent matches.
2016 Qatar ExxonMobil Open F, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 61 62
Djokovic made sure the lone blip in his jaw-dropping 2015 campaign - a Doha quarter-final defeat to Ivo Karlovic - was a distant memory. The World No. 1 captured his sixth consecutive ATP World Tour title and 60th overall at the tour-level. He became just the 10th player in the Open Era to reach the 60-title milestone, drawing level with Andre Agassi in a tie for ninth.
After streaking to a 6-1 first set after just 31 minutes, Djokovic continued to apply pressure on Nadal, suffocating the Spaniard from the baseline with a ruthless display of aggression. He converted his third break point in the opening game of the second set and secured another break to all but seal the match at 4-1. He would wrap up the match after 73 minutes, striking a total 30 winners to just 13 unforced errors.
The Serb leads the historic FedEx ATP Head2Head for the first time at 24-23. He has now claimed 11 consecutive sets since Nadal prevailed in the 2014 Roland Garros final.
2015 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals SF, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 63 63
Djokovic turned in a comprehensive performance in reaching a fourth consecutive final at The O2 in London, advancing to an 85th tour-level title match.
Djokovic was on the attack immediately against Nadal's own serve, pouncing on a short second serve for a return winner in the very first point and breaking to love for a quick 2-0 lead. The Belgrade native struck 12 winners and just one unforced error through the first three games. He was in control at the baseline, dictating play on his own terms and most importantly refusing to yield an inch on his own serve.
Patterns persisted in the second set, with Djokovic using his agility to stand tall on the baseline and he would break for 3-2 after a 25-shot rally. The Serb launched a backhand winner down-the-line on the run to give him his first match point at 5-3 and he would capitalise with another backhand winner - this time going cross-court.
With his consecutive finals reached streak up to 15 tournaments, Djokovic became the first player to claim 30 match wins against Top 10 opponents in a single season.
2015 China Open F, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 62 62
Djokovic extended his run of dominance in Beijing to 29-0 with a gritty victory over Nadal in the final. It was the Serb's seventh win over Nadal in their last eight meetings, a run that began at the 2013 China Open final. The World No. 1, who had already clinched the year-end top spot in the Emirates ATP Rankings, improved to a stunning 68-5 in 2015 and 23-4 against Top 10 opponents.
Djokovic would get off to a flying start in his quest for a sixth Beijing title, breaking immediately in the first game and again for 5-2 after turning aside a pair of break chances in the sixth game. Nadal would receive a visit from the trainer for an apparent leg ailment midway through the third game of the second set and Djokovic would pounce, breaking for 2-1. He did not look back, surging to the title after 91 minutes. The top seed struck 23 winners, including seven aces.
"This has definitely been my most successful tournament," said Djokovic during the trophy ceremony. "Beijing has been a lucky place for me. In 2008, I remember the Olympic Games when Rafa won gold and the tradition of Asian tennis started here. I played a great tournament overall and continued playing well today. Rafa and I have played 45 times and I hope that continues."
2015 Roland Garros QF, clay, Djokovic d. Nadal 75 63 61
On his seventh attempt, Djokovic finally dethroned nine-time champion Nadal on the red clay of Roland Garros, handing the Spaniard just his second loss in Paris and maintaining his hopes of completing the career Grand Slam.
In one of the most highly anticipated Grand Slam quarter-finals in history, Djokovic raced to a 4-love lead in the first set before sixth-seeded Nadal battled back to level the match. Despite the momentum shift, the Serb would find his footing to claim the first set in 67 minutes.
Djokovic was dominant on his serve in the second set, claiming 16 of 18 straight service points, before eventually taking a two-set lead. He carried that momentum into the final set, limiting Nadal to just three total forehand winners and claiming victory in two hours and 26 minutes.
2015 Monte-Carlo SF, clay, Djokovic d. Nadal 63 63
Djokovic reached his fourth Monte-Carlo by denying Rafael Nadal once again at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. Their 43rd meeting with a tale of the seventh game. Djokovic is now riding a 16-match winning streak and is on course to capture four straight ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles.
Nadal took a 2-0 lead at the start of the match, as Djokovic – the form player of 2015 – was tested, but regrouped to win three straight games. In an 11-minute seventh game, which saw Djokovic save one break, his greater weight of shots eventually over-stretched Nadal. Djokovic broke for a 5-3 lead, but Nadal battled throughout the 43-minute opener.
Djokovic playing on, or inside, the baseline, withstood a stern examination of his backhand, to create two break point chances in the opening game but he could not make a breakthrough. Nadal led 40/0 it 3-3, but was left to rue two forehand errors and a double fault as Djokovic went on to claim the 19-point game. Djokovic earned his 29th match win of the season with a backhand winner into space.
2014 Roland Garros, clay, Nadal d. Djokovic 36 75 62 64
Nadal prevented Djokovic from completing a career Grand Slam, as he retained his No. 1 Emirates ATP Ranking and became the first player in history to win nine titles at a major. He also drew level with Pete Sampras at No. 2 in the Grand Slam title-leaders list on 14 major crowns.
The Spaniard had lost eight of his past nine sets against Djokovic entering the Roland Garros final, and once again fell behind to start the match as Djokovic broke in the eighth game and survived a pair of break points. Though the winner of the first set had gone on to triumph nine times in their 11 previous Grand Slam meetings, a free-swinging Nadal drew level at a set apiece with a break and quickly raced out to a 3-0 lead in the third. The Serbian found renewed energy in the fourth set, recovering a break in the seventh game, but was unable to hold serve to stay in the match as he double-faulted on championship point.
2014 Internazionali BNL d'Italia Final, Rome, clay, Djokovic d. Nadal 46 63 63
Djokovic pulled closer to Nadal in the battle for No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings by claiming his third Rome title and 19th at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. It was the Serb's second triumph over his rival in a Rome final, having prevailed in the 2011 title match.
Nadal entered their 41st encounter having spent over 10 hours on court through the semi-finals, but the seven-time champion showed no signs of fatigue in the early stages. He would surge to a double-break lead in the first set behind a ferocious offensive onslaught, and held on to take the opener in 46 minutes. In their previous 10 meetings, the player who had won the first set went on to win the match. Djokovic was ready to buck the trend, finding his range and rhythm in the second and third sets and turning the tables with a tenacious attacking display. He would hold Nadal to winning under 28 per cent of second serve points won for the rest of the match, firing return winners with ease and standing tall on the baseline. Djokovic's 46 winners (including 15 from the backhand side) and six aces were too much for Nadal to overcome.