Rafael Nadal meets Novak Djokovic in French Open final, eyeing Roger Federer

Rafael Nadal
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Rafael Nadal plays Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s French Open final in what could be a history-altering showdown.

The top two seeds won two very different semifinals on Friday to set a clash anticipated since both men committed to the first Roland Garros held in the autumn. NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app air live coverage at 9 a.m. ET.

Nadal eyes a record-extending 13th French Open title, and a 20th Grand Slam singles title to match Roger Federer‘s male record.

The 34-year-old Spaniard hasn’t dropped a set in six matches, dispatching 12th-seeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (0) on Friday.

Nadal, avenging a straight-sets loss to Schwartzman on clay last month, improved to 99-2 in his French Open career. One of those defeats came to Djokovic in 2015.

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“I know that is a court that I have been playing well for such a long time, so that helps,” Nadal said of Court Philippe Chatrier, where he’s undefeated in semifinals and finals. “But at the same time [Djokovic] has an amazing record here, too, being in the final rounds almost every single time.

“I like to play in this scenario. I know I have to make a step forward. I think I did one today. But for Sunday is not enough. I need to make another one.”

Later Friday, Djokovic dropped fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1, after holding a match point on his serve in the third set. Djokovic improved to 216-1 when winning the first two sets in Grand Slam matches.

“I’m in the last match of the tournament, playing against the biggest rival, the biggest obstacle and challenge that you can have. This is what it comes down to,” Djokovic said, noting that the tournament being played in a cooler time of year, out of Nadal’s comfort zone, could work to his advantage. “Regardless of the conditions, he’s still there, he’s Rafa, he’s in the finals and we’re playing on clay.”

Djokovic is 37-1 in 2020, the outlier being a default at the U.S. Open for striking a ball in anger that inadvertently hit a linesperson in the throat.

The Serbian, who is one year younger than Nadal and six years younger than Federer, goes for his 18th Slam title on Sunday. He can move within one of Nadal and within two of Federer, before his most successful Slam, the Australian Open, in January.

“I don’t think it’s the biggest match that I have ever played in my life,” Djokovic said. “In terms of importance, I mean, if I have to compare, even though I don’t like [to], but probably the first Wimbledon finals that I actually played against [Nadal in 2011, winning four sets]. Wimbledon was always the one that I wanted to win as a kid and dreamed of winning. That’s probably the one that stands out.”

Sunday marks the ninth Grand Slam final between Nadal and Djokovic, tying Federer and Nadal and Venus and Serena Williams for the second-most common matchup in the Open Era. Only Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova played each other more often in major finals in the last 50 years.

Djokovic and Nadal evenly split their previous eight Slam final matchups.

In the most prolific men’s tennis rivalry of the Open Era, Djokovic leads the head-to-head 29-26 across all tournaments (that’s as many meetings as there have been Super Bowls).

Djokovic won their last three matches in majors. Nadal last defeated Djokovic at a Slam in the 2014 French Open final. This one will be the oldest French Open final in the Open Era by combined age, supplanting Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall in 1969.

“[Nadal] is the No. 1 favorite,” Djokovic said before the French Open. “The record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can’t put anybody in front of him.”

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