Novak Djokovic renews his 16-year rivalry with Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros on Tuesday with a place in the semi-finals on the line and where victory for the world number one could end the career of the 13-time Roland Garros champion. Nadal, who turns 36 on Friday, puts his record of 109 wins and just three losses in Paris since his title debut in 2005 on the line against the defending champion. The Spaniard was taken down in five sets for only the third time in the tournament by 21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round. Immediately after that victory, Nadal admitted that not only this year’s French Open was on the line, but possibly his whole future as a player.
“I know my situation and I accept it,” said Nadal, who arrived in Paris not knowing if he could participate after suffering a recurrence of a chronic foot injury that plagued him for most of his career.
“I just appreciate the fact that I’m here for one more year. And to be honest, every game I play here, I don’t know if it will be my last at Roland Garros.”
Overall, Djokovic has led Nadal 30-28 since their first career meeting at the 2006 French Open. Nadal has a 19-8 advantage on clay and has won seven of the duo’s nine encounters in Paris.
Djokovic, however, emerged victorious in the 2021 Roland Garros semi-finals en route to a second title. This defeat had a physical impact on Nadal who then skipped Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open.
With Djokovic expelled from Melbourne on the eve of the Australian Open, Nadal seized the opportunity to win a record 21st Grand Slam title, breaking a tie with Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Djokovic reached the last eight with ease. He has won 22 sets in a row, a streak dating back to his triumph at the Italian Open in Rome. “Playing Nadal at Roland Garros is always a physical battle,” Djokovic said.
To add an extra twist, a battle of wills over the lineup Nadal lost on Monday when organizers selected the quarter-final for the night session under the lights of Court Philippe Chatrier.
“I don’t like playing on clay at night because the humidity is higher, the ball is slower and there can be very difficult conditions, especially when it’s cold,” Nadal said.
Djokovic hinted that he would prefer to face Nadal as late as possible. “All I will say is Rafa and I would make different demands,” he said. “But the requests are not always accepted. The tournament director, together with the television, the broadcasters, I think in the end it is he who decides.”
Nadal’s coach Carlos Moya says the Spaniard’s opinion should have carried weight. “I wouldn’t say disrespect, but here at Roland Garros Rafa has credit,” Moya told RMC Sport. “He has won the tournament 13 times, and if he has a request, you should listen to him.”
Iga Swiatek spoke on Nadal’s side when asked to describe the perks of being world number one. “Well, I really appreciate when I have a request about what time I want to play and they really listen. That’s good,” said the Pole.
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