Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic met for the first time at Roland Garros 2006, with Djokovic retiring after the second set. Fifteen years later, two rivals shared the court in Paris again, battling in the semi-final and embracing their 58th Tour meeting.
Both players competed on a high level in the opening five rounds to arrange the expected semi-final clash, eight months after competing for the title in Paris. Novak was powerless in that one, experiencing his worst defeat in the Major finals and looking good to give Rafa a run for his money this time around.
Nadal defeated Djokovic in three sets in the Rome final a few weeks earlier, but he knew this would be a much more challenging task. Speaking about world no. 1, Nadal said it would have been better if they met in the title clash, as one of them still has to face another formidable rival two days later in the big final.
Rafa reminded that he knows Novak very well and that anything can happen in their duels. Leaving his incredible results at Roland Garros in the past, Nadal understood how important the encounter is for both of them, repeating it's a wide-open chase and never taking the status of the favorite, despite winning 13 Parisian titles.
As we all know, Nadal would suffer his third Roland Garros loss, losing to Djokovic in four sets after grueling four hours and 11 minutes to lose the beloved trophy for the first time since 2016.
Rafael Nadal would have loved to face Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros final.
"I would have preferred to face Novak in the final, mainly because you are already in the title match.
In the semis, you have one more encounter after that en route to the title. Even if you win the semis, you still have to produce another triumph to get the trophy. Novak is a formidable opponent, and if you beat him, you have to face another rival from the top.
Novak and I know each other well. In this type of match, anything can happen. Whoever brings the better tennis will have bigger chances to win. It's a crucial encounter for both of us, and the most significant difference is that it's only the semis; the winner still has a lot to do after that.
My numbers here in Paris are staggering, but I can not think about them right now. It's time to be happy today, as I beat a tough rival and played my best tennis in crucial moments; that gives me confidence," Rafael Nadal said.