When Novak Djokovic knew he could challenge the clay king Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have played against each other on clay 27 times, sharing the court at every notable event on the slowest surface. Novak has beaten Rafa eight times, including their latest clash in the Roland Garros semi-final that lasted four hours and 11 minutes. The Serb was confident about his chances against the already established king of clay ever since 2007, although he had to wait until 2011 to topple the Spaniard on his favorite surface. Novak and Rafa met for the first time in the 2006 Roland Garros quarter-final, with the Serb retiring due to an injury after trailing 6-4, 6-4. Djokovic beat Nadal for the first time in Miami 2007, previously losing the Indian Wells final to Rafa in straight sets. Novak’s first event on clay in 2007 came in Monte Carlo, and he beat a former Roland Garros winner Gaston Gaudio 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 in the opening clash.

Novak Djokovic had to wait until 2011 to beat Rafael Nadal for the first time on clay.

It was Novak’s 13th victory in the previous 14 matches, losing serve four times and delivering seven return games to move over the top in under two hours. Spraying more errors in set number two, Djokovic lost ground for a moment, fending off a break chance at the beginning of the third with an ace and never looking back to race over the top. After the victory, the Serb spoke about his goals on clay that spring, saying he is a better and stronger player than a year ago and feeling confident about his chances against Rafael Nadal on the slowest surface. Novak had another opportunity to play against Rafa at Roland Garros a couple of weeks later, reaching his first Major semi-final and losing to Nadal in straight sets despite a solid effort.

“If I want to chase big results on clay this year, I have to be physically prepared. Last year, I won my first ATP title on clay and reached the Roland Garros quarter-final. I’m more reliable than in 2006, playing with more motivation and confidence. I have proved to everyone that I have the quality to chase notable results at Majors and Masters 1000 events. I beat Rafael Nadal a few weeks ago, and that victory means a lot to me. I will take one step at a time, not rushing anywhere. My goals are high, and I believe I can defeat Rafa on clay,” Novak Djokovic said.