World No.1 Novak Djokovic has booked a tantalising semi-final match with 13-time Roland Garros winner Rafael Nadal, after outlasting Italian 9th seed Matteo Berrettini on Wednesday night.
The 18-time major winner was forced to dig deep against Berrettini, but found a way to progress to another Grand Slam final four, winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 in just under three and a half hours on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
With local restrictions easing on Wednesday morning, Roland Garros wasn’t a different beast on day eleven, especially inside centre court where crowds of up to 5,000 people found their voice.
Fans were cleared out midway through the fourth set, before Djokovic booked another meeting with Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal, who beat Argentinian 10th seed Diego Schwartzman earlier in the day.
There is more than just another final on stake for the winner on Friday. Nadal could earn the opportunity to move into outright first with the most major titles ever on 21, while Djokovic could become the first player in the Open era to win every major twice.
“I'm not the only one who beat him (Nadal at Roland Garros). Robin Soderling beat him, as well. That's all, actually. There's not many players that won against him in this court,” Djokovic told reporters on Thursday morning.
“It's a well-anticipated semifinal. A lot of people talked about that potential match-up. Here we are. We are going to face each other another time. We had some battles over the years in this court. Last year he just dominated the finals against me.
“Obviously different conditions are going to be played on Friday. Then it was the case in finals of last year, so I'm hopefully going to be able to also perform at the high level than I have, especially in the first two sets in the last year's final.
“The quality and the level of tennis that I've been playing in the last three, four weeks on clay - Rome, Belgrade and here - is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of that match. I'm confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn't be here. Let's have a great battle.”
Djokovic and Nadal have met 57 times before, with the Serb edging the 20-time major winner by the narrowest of margins.
The 34-year-old conceded their rivalry is unique and each match brings pressure and worldwide anticipation.
“It's not like any other match. Let's face it, it's the biggest challenge that you can have playing on clay against Nadal on this court in which he has had so much success in his career. In the final stages of a Grand Slam, it doesn't get bigger than that,” he said.
“Of course, each time we face each other, there's that extra tension and expectations. Just vibes are different walking on the court with him. But that's why our rivalry has been historic I think for this sport. I've been privileged to play him so many times.
“I was mentioning before rivalries with him and Roger [Federer] have made me a stronger player, allowed me to understand how I need to improve my game to get to the level where they were actually when I started playing professional tennis. I'll probably pick Rafa as the biggest rival I've ever had in my career. The anticipation for the match against him, any match, any surface, any occasion, is always different from any other.”
Listen to The First Serve, Mondays 8pm AEDT 1116AM SEN Melbourne, 1170AM SEN Sydney & 1629AM SEN SA or listen live and catch up on the SEN App.
Brought to you by 1st Serve Tennis Sunscreen, available at www.sunblessedsunscreens.com.au Order now using the discount code SEN.