NOVAK Djokovic hopes his recent victory over Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo can give him the mental advantage when they meet in the semi-finals of the French Open today.
It is the match everyone at Roland Garros has been waiting for since the draw was made.
It will be the 35th time the pair, who faced each other in the final last year, have met and the first before a final since 2010. Nadal leads their head-to-head 19-15 and has won 12 of 15 matches on clay but Djokovic has come out on top in eight of their last 11 meetings, including April’s final of the Monte Carlo Mon clay to his rival last year, it was a key victory for Djokovic and there is an argument that his indifferent form since has not been a bad thing because it means he has not faced Nadal again.
The world No 1 said: “That is something that can maybe give me that mental edge when I step onto the court. Knowing I already won against him on clay this season, knowing I can do it, even though not many players in the last ten years have won against him on this surface and he’s been the most dominant player in the history of this sport on this surface.
“It’s incredible what he does on this surface. But it’s the best of five [sets], so it takes much more than just doing the same thing like in Monte Carlo.
“It’s a grand slam also, so there is, I guess, more tension, more things that are important for both of us. The final is at stake.But, if everything goes well and if I start well in the match, I think that can give me that confidence boost that I need.”
Nadal dominated their early meetings, winning 14 of the first 18, but since then Djokovic has had the upper hand more often than not. He won three successive grand slam finals against Nadal before the Spaniard stopped him joining a very exclusive club of men who have held all four titles at the same time with a four-set win at Roland Garros last year.
Djokovic said of playing Nadal: “I always thought I had a good chance. I have a good game for him because my style is to be aggressive but I can also defend well and have that transition game. I need to serve well. If I serve well, get a few free points here and there, it gives you confidence. But, generally, I know what the gameplan is, and I’m going to be confident and step into the court with self-belief that I can win. I know what it takes to win against him.”
Nadal, however, is not putting too much importance on the Monte Carlo match, where he lost the first five games before a tighter second set that Djokovic won on a tie-break. He said: “I think I played a great second set in Monte Carlo. The only negative thing in Monte Carlo was I didn’t win the set. But every match is a different history. We’re going to play here in Roland Garros, we’re not in Monte Carlo. This court, and the feeling to play on this court, it’s always a little bit different.”
No one has been more dominant at a single grand slam than Nadal, who is looking to become the first man to win eight titles at one major tournament.
Since returning from seven months out with knee problems, Nadal has played nine tournaments, winning six and losing in the final of two, with Djokovic the only player to beat him since his first event.
The pair have now met more often than Nadal and Roger Federer who are considered the primary rivals of the era.
“It is already a lot of matches on our shoulders,” said Nadal. “We’ve started to play very often for important things, and that makes the rivalries big. My rivalry with Roger – I won’t say rivalry because that’s your word, it’s not my one –but my matches against Roger started to be classic ones because we always competed for important things, and that makes the matches interesting, emotional for us, for the crowd, and that makes the sport big. Playing with Novak always is a big challenge, it is a pleasure at the same time, because he puts you in a position that you need to improve all the time. I think it’s great that we are both there another time.”
There is also plenty at stake in the other semi-final , where French favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga meets fourth seed David Ferrer.
Tsonga is playing with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders 30 years after Yannick Noah became the last Frenchman to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires. It is 25 years since a Frenchman, Henri Leconte, last made the final, and five years since Tsonga’s shock run to his only previous grand slam final at the Australian Open.
Ferrer, meanwhile, is looking to turn his sixth semi-final into a first grand slam final.