Novak Djokovic sounds like a player ready to take on one of the toughest challenges in all of tennis: Beating Rafael Nadal in best-of-5 sets on clay. Only Robin Soderling has done it and Friday Djokovic will have another chance at it in the French Open semifinals.
Djokovic, though, is just 3-12 lifetime against Nadal on clay (15-19 overall). And he’s never beaten at Roland Garros, where Nadal does his best work.
“I need that necessary intensity from the start,” Djokovic said after beating Tommy Haas today in the quarters. “I need to be willing to and needing to play on top of my game throughout the whole match, because that’s what it’s going to take to win against him.
“I look forward to it,” he said. “I’m sure that we know each other’s game really well. As I said, we are in good form. This is it, you know. This is the biggest matchup of our Roland Garros 2013 campaign for both me and him.
“I guess it’s the small details and few points can decide a winner, and that’s why I need to be very disciplined and focused in order to get emotionally, physically, and mentally ready for that match.”
Djokovic did just beat Nadal in Monte Carlo in April, a huge win that could prove beneficial two days from now. In a rivalry this close, and edge can make the difference, and Djokovic knows it.
“That is something that can maybe give me that mental edge when I step onto the court,” he said. “Knowing I already won against him on clay this season, knowing I can do it, even though not many players in 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.
“But, again, it’s the best of five, so it takes much more than just doing the same thing like in Monte Carlo, you know. It’s a Grand Slam also, so there is more I guess more tension, more things, you know, that are important for both of us. You know, the finals, is at stake.
“But if everything goes well and if I start well, you know, in the match, I think that can give me that confidence boost that I need. Because I need to start well. That’s something that I know.”
In recent years, Djokovic has made progress playing and beating Nadal, and prior to last season the Serb was dominating Rafa for a brief stretch.
With his elastic build, steady backhand and the best defense-to-offense game in the business, Djokovic does create problems for Nadal.
“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,” he said. “I need to serve well. If I serve well, also, you know, get a few free points here and there and it gives you confidence. But generally I know what’s the game plan, and I’m going to be confident and step into the court with self belief that I can win.”
Djokovic will be playing in his 12th straight Grand Slam semifinal. If he can win the French Open title on Sunday he’ll join Nadal and Roger Federer as active players to have won the career Grand Slam.
The 26-year-old has lost just one set en route to the semifinals, that to Philipp Kohlschreiber. And he’s won 12 straight Grand Slam matches.
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