Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are two wins away from setting a blockbuster Roland Garros semi-final, looking to extend their GOAT race and continue where they left in Rome in May. Last October, Nadal toppled Djokovic in the Roland Garros final in style to secure the 20th Major crown and match Roger Federer’s record. In one of the most important encounters of the 21st century, the 12-time champion Nadal took down world no. 1 Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 in two hours and 41 minutes following an almost flawless performance, securing the 13th title in Paris and the milestone 20th Major. Standing within two Majors from each other, Djokovic was eager to take another step closer to Nadal and Federer in the GOAT race. Nonetheless, he made the slowest start and ruined his chances of taking the second Major of the season after the Australian Open. Nadal produced a clear game plan and delivered aggressive tennis that surprised Djokovic and blew him off the court in the opening two sets.
The Serb recovered his game in the third to avoid disaster, staying in touch until 5-5 before Rafa grabbed a crucial break that carried him over the top. The famous coach Patrick Mouratoglou said that Novak Djokovic wasn’t ready to challenge Nadal on that day, playing a marathon semi-final against Tsitsipas and entering the final without energy. On the other hand, Rafa knew what he had to do from the very first ball, choosing the right tactic that carried him towards the crown. Nadal had 31 winners and 14 unforced errors and stole 51% of the return points to control the scoreboard. Novak sprayed 52 unforced errors while searching for his A-game for over two hours to suffer a massive loss despite a solid effort in set number three. Rafa lost serve once and grabbed seven breaks from 18 opportunities, pushing strong on the return and outplaying Novak in the shortest range up to four strokes.
In the last year’s Roland Garros final, Novak won only seven games against Rafa.
Like in 2008 final against Roger Federer, Nadal delivered a bagel to Novak in the opening set after playing almost flawless tennis, finishing it with an ace at 5-0 after 45 minutes. Rafa faced no break points in set number two, taming his strokes nicely and overpowering Djokovic for another rock-solid set of tennis that propelled him towards a 6-0, 6-2 lead after an hour and 34 minutes. Djokovic saved a break chance in the third set’s third game and raised his level to become more competitive. Rafa broke him at love at 2-2, but instead of building on that, he suffered a break for the first and only time a few minutes later to provide Djokovic with a necessary boost. With no room for errors, Nadal held comfortably in games eight, ten and 12 and earned a break at 5-5 following Novak’s double fault before sealing the deal with a hold at love for the 20th Major crown.
“Of course Rafa played his match. Whether he wins or loses, Rafa is always there, starting the encounter solidly and seeing what’s happening, stepping up if he needs to. That’s exactly what Novak didn’t do. You could feel something wrong because he looked for easy points, trying drop shots from the opening game. Novak wasn’t prepared to rally and go for it and hit winners to give himself a chance to win that match. He didn’t enter the court playing with the same mindset as the one we know. It happens to everyone, that’s why tennis is interesting because it’s not only about entering and playing your match there are many other aspects. The mental aspect is huge,” Patrick Mouratoglou said.