Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have created one of the most intense rivalries in the history of this sport, and perhaps the most intense of the contemporary ones. The two have faced 55 times since 2006 (a record for the Open Era), the head-to-head sees the Serbian tennis player in the lead 29-26.
They met in 8 Grand Slam finals (balance 4-4) and 13 Masters 1000 finals (record and Djokovic leads 7-6). The first ever meeting between the two occurred at the 2006 French Open in the quarterfinals, where Nadal prevailed after Djokovic retired with an injury in the third set.
This match initiated the rivalry, with Djokovic later commenting to the media that he understood what he needed to do to beat Nadal and claiming Nadal "was beatable on clay" Their first final appearance came at the 2007 Indian Wells Masters tournament, where Nadal won the event, and this was just the second time they had met on tour.
Djokovic's first win was in the quarterfinals of the 2007 Miami Masters in their third meeting. Some of their matches are considered to be classics and among the greatest matches of all time including the 2009 Madrid Masters semifinal, 2013 French Open semifinal and 2018 Wimbledon semifinal.
Their 2012 Australian Open final has been lauded as the greatest match ever played by some long-time tennis pundits, analysts, and former players and legends of the sport. Mary Carillo and John McEnroe both commented that that Australian Open match and the 2013 French Open semifinal match were the two best matches played on hard and clay courts respectively.
During an interview with Eurosport’s Players’ Cut, Nadal's uncle Toni explained the differences between playing against Federer and Djokovic: “For us, it was always more difficult to play against Djokovic.
Because it’s not about who of them is better. For us, when we play against Federer, we have a way to beat him. In my mind, before going on court, I know what we have to do. When we play against Djokovic, many times we didn’t know exactly what we had to do. This is more difficult, for me. I prefer to play against Federer”.