In the 59th installment of their legendary rivalry, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic face off on Tuesday evening at Roland Garros. The Court Philippe Chatrier showdown is the duo’s first meeting since their thrilling semi-final a year ago in Paris, which the Serb won en route to his second Roland Garros title.
The defending champion is now in pursuit of his third crown, which would see him equal Nadal with 21 Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal, who took sole possession of that record by winning the Australian Open in January, is looking to cement his lead by winning a record 14th title in Paris.
Although the pair are familiar foes – especially at Roland Garros, where Nadal enters this match with a 7-2 head-to-head advantage – their quarter-final is also a match of historic firsts: it is the first time in the Open era that a men’s match has featured two men with at least 20 Grand Slam wins, 1,000 match wins or 300 Grand Slam match wins.
Both Nadal and Djokovic put on a show in the opening set of their Roland Garros quarter-final, but Nadal hit the early hard knocks to win it, 6-2. While the score was one-sided, the majority of the exchanges were thrilling back and forth, with both men battling for supremacy in a high-octane chess match from the baseline.
The Spaniard broke serve in a 10-minute opener to take the early lead, then saved a pair of break points to hold it 3-1 before slotting through the rest of the set. Djokovic used multiple drop shots with varying success, while Nadal attacked the net nine times, winning four of those points.
Nadal was snappy from the first ball and finished with a 12-6 win-against tally, while Djokovic was a minus-1 by that metric, hitting eight winners and nine errors.
Djokovic fought back after a double breakdown, winning six of the last seven games in a thrilling 6-4 set.
Just like in the first set, Nadal started the second set with a crucial break of serve in a titanic opener. After Djokovic survived for over 13 minutes, Nadal took his seventh break point of the game to struggle for control of the game. Djokovic didn’t have a play point.
Nadal’s forehand was at his best, and Djokovic started pressing as he lost contact with the Spaniard. The Serbian found himself faced with a double break at 3-0 when Nadal caught a winner after chasing another bunt.
But Djokovic stepped up the aggression to make it 3-3, drawing errors from Nadal for the first time in the match as he began to dictate his own forehand. He won his fifth break point of a seven-point game to tie, then fought back a break point to hold 4-3 on four runs. These two crucial games after the 3-2 passage lasted almost 29 minutes.
As Nadal served at 4-5, Djokovic made a series of deep returns and broke for the third time in four return games to equalize after two hours and 18 minutes. The second set alone lasted an hour and 28 minutes.
The first two sets reflect the start of their 2021 semi-final, when Nadal took a 6-3 opener before Djokovic responded with a 6-3 second. It set the stage for an all-time classic third set, which Djokovic won in a tie-break. The Serb’s four-set comeback was the first time since 2014 in this rivalry that the player losing the opening set has come back to win.
Three sets, three instant breaks for Nadal. And for the second set in a row, he claimed an early double break advantage behind blistering groundstrokes. This time it proved to be more than enough as he closed without a problem, ending the set just after midnight.
The 6-2 set gave the Spaniard a two-sets-to-one lead and dispelled any thoughts of lingering fatigue after his five-set triumph over Felix Auger-Aliassime on Sunday. After Nadal fended off a break point to hold it 3-1, he earned his second break – his sixth of the game – and never gave Djokovic a chance to close the game.
The Serb, after attacking with such consistency in his comeback in the second set, committed 16 unforced errors against seven set winners. Nadal, who had a positive ratio in all three sets, hit eight winners and six errors in the third.