- Friday’s French Open semifinal will be the 58th meeting between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal
- While Djokovic holds a 29-28 edge overall, Nadal leads 19-7 on red clay
- Nadal is the favorite (as usual). We break down the matchup and make a prediction
They are inarguably the two best clay-court players in the world. But Friday’s French Open semifinal will be only the second time in six years that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have played each other at the French Open.
Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal Odds
| Novak Djokovic (SRB)||+4.5 (-103)||+215||O 37.5 (-112)|
| Rafael Nadal (ESP)||-4.5 (-121)||-275||U 37.5 (-110)|
Odds as of June 10 at DraftKings
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A Clay-Court Rivalry in Three Parts
If the 19-7 record Nadal has over Djokovic on clay seems lopsided, it’s really the tale of three different phases.
Nadal won their first nine meetings going all the way back to the 2006 French Open quarterfinals 15 years ago.
Then, from Rome 2014 through Rome 2016, Djokovic won four of five.
But Nadal has won the last five, with the loss of just two total sets. Most memorable was the beatdown he inflicted upon Djokovic in the 2020 French Open final, exceptionally played in October. Most recent was the 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 victory in the Rome final less than a month ago.
Very Different Conditions for 2021 Clash
Last fall, the conditions were cold, wet and slow for the pandemic-necessary October dates.
Even if Nadal prefers the hot, sunny, quicker conditions (on clay, at least), he still won.
Eight months later, the weather has been warm and humid all week. And it’s expected to remain that way for the rest of the tournament. The conditions are much more to Nadal’s liking, although they also are to Djokovic’s liking.
Djokovic and Nadal in Decent, Not Spectacular Form
Last fall, Nadal had all sorts of reasons why he wasn’t backing himself to win the the French Open.
Of course, he rolled to his 13th career title without dropping a set.
This year, Djokovic has all sorts of reasons why he might have struggled. He skipped Madrid after an early loss in Monte Carlo. He had some tough nights in Rome. And with the (almost) requirement to play the two smaller ATP Tour events at the club he owns in Belgrade, it’s not been typical French Open prep.
Against Matteo Berrettini Wednesday night, Djokovic dealt with … a few things.
"There was tremendous intensity in that game. I had the feeling I missed some chances to win the match in the 3rd set. (…) At the end, that scream, it was a way to release all that tension I had in me during the match."
Novak Djokovic pic.twitter.com/zKlaoJbh4f
— We Are Tennis (@WeAreTennis) June 10, 2021
There was a 20-minute break in the middle of the match when they had to clear the fans out of the stadium to meet the 11 pm government curfew.
Djokovic came back after Berrettini took the third set. And when it was over, he let all his emotions fly. That’s not new for him. But in the empty stadium with the sound of his screams echoing and bouncing around, it was … quite a moment.
Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal Head-to-Head
|34 (May 22, 1987)||Age||35 (June 3, 1986)|
|Belgrade, Serbia||Birthplace||Manacor, Mallorca|
|83||Career ATP Singles Titles||88|
|18||Career Grand Slam Titles||20|
|No. 1 (July 4, 2011)||Career High Ranking||No. 1 (Aug. 18, 2008)|
|No. 1||Current Ranking||No. 3|
|$148,092,073||Career Prize Money||$124,480,032|
|25-3||2021 Won/Loss record||23-3|
|29||2021 Career Head-to-Head||28|
Will It Be Routine, or Marathon?
Recent evidence at Roland Garros is meager, in terms of predicting how this one is going to go.
Last fall’s straight-sets Nadal win was probably an outlier. Then again, maybe not.
Djokovic is the only active player to ever defeat Nadal in Paris, where he’s now 105-2. The other, Robin Soderling, who famously upset the Mallorcan in 2009, is retired.
Will he overdo the drop shot, as he did in last October’s final and seemed to do Wednesday against Berrettini?
Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal Grand Slam Match History
|2020||Roland Garros||Final||6-0, 6-2, 7-5||Nadal|
|2019||Australian Open||Final||6-3, 6-2, 6-3||Djokovic|
|2018||Wimbledon||Semifinal||6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8||Djokovic|
|2015||Roland Garros||Quarterfinal||7-5, 6-3, 6-1||Djokovic|
|2014||Roland Garros||Final||3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4||Nadal|
|2013||US Open||Final||6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1||Nadal|
|2013||Roland Garros||Semifinal||6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7||Nadal|
|2012||Roland Garros||Final||6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5||Nadal|
|2012||Australian Open||Final||5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5||Djokovic|
|2011||US Open||Final||6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-1||Djokovic|
|2011||Wimbledon||Final||6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3||Djokovic|
|2010||US Open||Final||6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2||Nadal|
|2008||Roland Garros||Semifinal||6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3)||Nadal|
|2007||Wimbledon||Semifinal||3-6, 6-1, 4-1 (retd)||Nadal|
|2007||Roland Garros||Semifinal||7-5, 6-4, 6-2||Nadal|
|2006||Roland Garros||Quarterfinal||6-4, 6-4 retd||Nadal|
It doesn’t feel as though Djokovic is in the right place to pull off an upset this year. But you count out a champion at your peril.
The likely outcome is neither a straight-sets Nadal win, nor a marathon for the ages.
Best Bet: Rafael Nadal in four sets (+300)