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Paris Tennis Friday • Rafa Nadal to Play Nole Djokovic For a Spot in French Open Finals 2021

Ricky’s preview and pick for the Djokovic vs. Nadal French Open semifinal showdown

Winner Rafael Nadal of Spain (R) and runner-up Novak Djokovic of Serbia pose with their trophies after their men’s final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 11 October 2020. EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT

By Ricky Dimon

There was little doubt when the French Open draw came out that a semifinal showdown between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal would come to fruition.

That is indeed the case, as the two all-time greats will square off for the 58th time in their careers on Friday evening.

Djokovic leads the head-to-head series by an incredibly slim 29-28 margin. The fact that it could be all tied up after 58 meetings is fun to think about, but it is hardly the most relevant statistic. This is what matters: Nadal is 5-0 in their last five clay-court contests, while Djokovic is 10-0 in their last 10 matches on hard courts and grass. Nadal hasn’t won on anything other than clay since the 2013 U.S. Open final.

Good news for the Spaniard: we are once again only talking about clay.

In fact, it’s more like great news. Nadal’s perfect 5-0 mark on the slow stuff, which dates back to the start of 2017, also includes an 11-2 sets record at Djokovic’s expense. Their 2020 French Open matchup came in the final and the King of Clay dominated it 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. They most recently faced each other in last month’s Rome final, with Nadal recovering from a mid-match hiccup to triumph 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.

Rafael Nadal (R) of Spain is congratulated by Novak Djokovic (L) of Serbia after winning their men’s singles final at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, 16 May 2021. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI

None of those results bode well for Djokovic. Conditions at a most unusual 2020 Roland Garros event–held in October instead of June–were far worse for Nadal, and he still had no trouble giving the Serb a free clay-court lesson. It is also no secret that Nadal is much tougher to beat in Paris than in Rome. Take 2020, for example. He lost to Diego Schwartzman in the Rome quarterfinals only to dominate the French Open without dropping a single set in the process–including a 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(0) semifinal beatdown of Schwartzman.

If Djokovic could not beat Nadal in Rome, what’s to say he can do it now?

His form, although decent, definitely doesn’t. The world No. 1 cruised through his first three matches of the fortnight in straight sets, but he lost a pair of tiebreakers to Lorenzo Musetti on Monday and then required three hours and 28 minutes to get past Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 in the quarters.

Nadal, on the other hand, has been entirely dominant. The third seed crushed Alexei Popyrin, Richard Gasquet, Cameron Norrie, and Jannik Sinner in straight sets to reach the last eight. Schwartzman ended Nadal’s French Open set streak at 36 on Wednesday, but the 34-year-old responded to that test by winning 30 of the match’s last 35 points en route to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory.

With five more wins under his belt, Nadal is now 105-2 lifetime at Roland Garros. He is 13-0 in semifinal matches. Add finals to the mix and he is 26-0 in his career once he advances to this stage of the French Open.

There is no reason to think such perfection will end on Friday.

Pick: Nadal in 3

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates after winning his quarter final match against Diego Schwartzman of Argentina at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 09 June 2021. EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.