Here’s everything you need to know about a marquee French Open semifinal between the two titans of tennis: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, each continuing to fight for GOAT status.
Arch-rivals and tennis legends Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic headline a titanic semifinal that many are considering the real final of the French Open grand slam.
Tennis supremacy will be on the line as Rafa continues his pursuit for an awe-inspiring 14th Roland Garros title and the chance to own the grand slam record outright, currently tied at 20 with the other member of the Big 3, Roger Federer. “Nole” Djokovic is looking to close the gap of slams between himself and his tied-at-20 rivals, affectionately referred to by fans as Fedal. The FO crown will put Nole at 19, just one behind the two.
Friday’s semifinal between the world No. 1 Djoker and No. 3 Rafa will follow the semifinal between world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 6 Alexander Zverev, both excellent clay court players who have performed impressively all season. The first semifinal is schedule to start 8:30 a.m. ET, with the pedigree rivalry between Rafa and Nole approximately at 11:30 a.m. on Philippe Chatrier.
Imperious form for both rivals all tournament
Nadal will be going for broke on his own hunting grounds, where he has dominated for the last 16 years. Having just turned 35 one week ago, the 13-time Roland Garros winner has dominated from the outset of the tourney, only dropping one set throughout the fortnight so far, in his quarterfinal win over Diego Schwartzman. But as a testament to the Spaniard’s belief in himself and uncanny ability to bounce back, he answered the second set weakness with a resounding bagel in the fourth on Wednesday, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0. Nadal also came to the tournament with two clay titles this year under his belt, including a decisive victory over Djokovic in the Rome finale, giving him his 10th trophy there.
The reigning Australian Open champ and 34-year-old Novak Djokovic didn’t arrive in Paris with any clay titles this year. However, the Serbian has thrived during the French fortnight, winning most of his matches with aplomb, until two Italians put up a fight: 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti, who wrestled the first two tie break sets off of Djokovic, 6-7(7), 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-0, before running out of steam and retiring in the fifth with 4-0. Another Italian, Matteo Berrittini, managed to steal the momentum in their quarterfinal clash in the third set, when a controversial COVID curfew that set in at 11:00 p.m. forced a 20-minute pause as officials asked spectators to leave. When both players came back, Djokovic took full advantage of the reset and sealed the win, eliciting a guttural cry that shook the rafters of the stadium, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5.
Which prompted this hilarious reaction:
Novak Djokovic will be facing Nadal on the King of Clay’s home turf, a battleground where he rarely shows weakness of any degree. Only two men have had the better of the Mallorcan at Roland Garros: Robin Soderling in 2009 (who Federer beat for his sole title there), and Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinal. If the Serb wins Friday’s epic clash, he will be the only player to have bested the greatest clay court player ever at RG twice, a notable feather in his cap in the Big 3 debate.
In their 58th bout, Djokovic has the slight edge in their head-to-head, with 29 wins compared with Rafa’s 28. However, most of those have occurred on hard courts, with the Spaniard having won 19 out of 26 times on his favorite surface. The last time that Djokovic got the better of Rafa was five years ago, a quarterfinal two-setter in Rome in 2016.
Nadal and Djokovic have traded the top ATP spot for the better part of the last decade. Among the last 44 grand slams, these two titans own a mammoth 31 of them. Although Federer lead the charge for GOAT status, it is expected that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will overtake his substantial haul. The two legends are the more active rivalry among the Big 3.
Each of the Big 3 — Fed, Rafa, Nole — have dominated one slam while getting only a single win of their least successful one (Fed: eight Wimbledon’s to his one French, Rafa: 13 French but one Australian, and Nole’s nine AO’s compared with his one RG), but if the Serb goes on to achieve a second RG, he will be the only Big 3 participant get achieve a double Grand Slam. The outcome of this semifinal match — with the victor going on to hunt down one more slam for the record books — is probably one of the most important determiners in the GOAT dialogue and the future of the Big 3 lore.
The exciting event itself
Rafael Nadal will walk onto Philippe Chatrier with all the confidence in the world. Even though he retains the upper hand in semi-final bout, from what we’ve seen at Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic has plenty of fight left in him and will bring all his passion and competitive prowess to battle for all the tennis milestones that are on the line.
NBC will broadcast both men’s semifinal matches on Friday, on their TV network, with the first one between “Sascha” Zverev and Tsitsipas scheduled for 8:30 a.m. ET, followed by a match for the ages between great rivals Nadal and Djokovic, approximately at 11:30 a.m. ET.
Expect a tight, tactical contest full of tense physicality. Both matches will be available for streaming on Peacock as well.