Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet as soon as once more in the semi-finals of the French Open on Friday at Roland Garros, the very place the place they first clashed in 2006.
We look again on that day 15 years in the past:
— Second seed Nadal was the defending champion having received the primary of his 13 Roland Garros titles, and 20 majors total, 12 months earlier on the age of 19.
Djokovic, world primary now, was then a brash 19-yr-outdated ranked at 63.
“I’m going out there to win, not just play,” mentioned Djokovic who had defeated three high 30 gamers to succeed in the quarter-finals.
— Djokovic hoped the French crowd would get behind him on Court Philippe Chatrier. He had even donned a France soccer staff shirt in his pre-match media convention hoping to faucet into the nationwide feelgood temper which might see Les Bleus attain the ultimate of the World Cup in Germany that summer time.
Unfortunately, the early afternoon begin meant that the majority of the courtside seats have been empty. Not even Nadal and Djokovic might compete with the sights of lunchtime schmoozing in the close by VIP eating places.
Dressed in his white pedal-pushers, Nadal broke first, however Djokovic hit again. Nadal carved out one other break for two-1 and that was sufficient for the primary set 6-4.
Both gamers exhibited mannerisms and habits which might develop into widespread-place over the following 15 years.
Commentators have been intrigued by the quantity of instances Djokovic bounced the ball between serves — “14, 15, 16”.
At the opposite finish, cameras picked out ‘Vamos’ scribbled in pen on the heel of Nadal’s proper shoe.
The champion, shoulder-size hair stored underneath management by a white bandana, showcased his fussy service motion, punctuated by the choosing at his shorts and mopping of his forehead.
In no time in any respect, he was a double-break up for 3-0 earlier than Djokovic retrieved one break to path 2-4.
In between, Djokovic had taken a nasty-wanting tumble into the purple mud. He by no means regarded comfy once more.
Nadal pocketed the second set 6-4 and three factors into the third set, Djokovic retired with a again damage.
It was Nadal’s 58th consecutive win on clay.
— The Serb shocked his information convention by insisting “I think I was in control of the match”.
“I was playing pretty well. Everything was depending on my racquet. Even with a sore back, I think I played equal.
“I feel I might have received at the moment. He’s not unbeatable.”
Nadal was so baffled by Djokovic’s revisionist summary that when he was asked if he thought the Serb was right to state he had controlled proceedings, he demanded the question be translated into Spanish so he could be sure he understood.
“Oh sure,” said Nadal, tongue firmly in cheek and to howls of laughter. “If he thinks that, it is OK. I need not reply.”
TV pundits were equally perplexed.
“Novak, do you want smelling salts?” asked bemused former player and ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert.
“If you need to incite Rafa, the following time you play, he’ll drop the hammer on you. It was heavyweight towards middleweight on the market.”
Gilbert was right. Nadal won all nine of the pair’s first clay-court meetings. It took Djokovic until Madrid in 2011 to achieve his maiden victory on the surface against the Spanish star.
Nadal went on to win Roland Garros that year and defended it in 2007 and 2008. He was sinking his teeth into the Coupe des Mousquetaires again in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Djokovic has lost three Paris finals to Nadal — in 2012, 2014 and 2020 — but claimed his first and only Roland Garros title in 2016.
However, he still retains the consolation of being one of only two men to have beaten Nadal at the tournament – in the 2015 quarter-finals.
And what about those 57 meetings? Well, Djokovic currently leads 29-28.
Nadal (13 French Opens; 20 Grand Slams)
— “We know one another properly. Everybody is aware of that in these form of matches something can occur. But it’s a semi-closing. It’s not a closing. That’s a giant distinction.”
Djokovic (1 French Open; 18 Grand Slams)
— “Rafa is the most important rival I’ve ever had in my profession. The anticipation for the match towards him, any match, any floor, any event, is at all times totally different from every other.”