Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal In The French Open QFs, Who’s The Pick?

by Sean Randall | May 30th, 2022, 11:32 pm

Sorry kids, you have the day off! I know Carlos Alcaraz is playing tomorrow and Holger Rune just pulled the upset of his life today, but the tennis world will be centered on Chatrier Tuesday night for chapter 59 of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, aka the greatest men’s tennis rivalry in history.

Djokovic leads 30-28 and most importantly has won two of their last three at the French Open including that incredible win last year (which is also the last time they played).

A month ago, I would have picked Nadal. Easy. But a lot has changed.

Nadal aggravated his foot in Rome where Djokovic went on to take the title and finally find some much-needed form, fitness, confidence and comfort on the court after a forgettable start the year.

So Djokovic is in a good place while Nadal is playing in good place (Chatrier) but is his head and body right?

The foot hasn’t been an issue and he’s been sharp. But that 5-set match against Felix Auger-Aliassime gives me pause. Nadal turns 36 on Friday and even though he’s the indefatigable Rafa, I have to think he’s going to be feeling just a little light in the fuel department tomorrow night.

The match is also being played at night in the even-cooler conditions which should help Djokovic at least mentally.

I’ve heard a lot about Djokovic’s motivation and he has a lot. Getting to 21, winning a third Career Slam and of course atoning for that Australian Open fiasco which ended with Nadal winning that title and taking the all-time lead. Those are all big.

But Rafa’s got motivation as well. Avenge his loss to Novak last year, win his first title on clay in over a year and give himself a shot at finishing the year No. 1. (And heck, maybe he puts a calendar Slam in play!)

So as is custom when they play, there’s a lot at stake.

I’ll assume Nadal’s foot is OK and physically he’s fine. And the playing-at-night concern is not really a concern at all for Nadal who rolled Richard Gasquet last year and Jannik Sinner in 2020, both at night. And he hammered Djokovic in the cool, fall 2020 final.

But Djokovic looks to be back in full flight. And when that’s the case, that’s trouble for Rafa.

Novak’s won his last nine matches and his last 22 sets, beating some pretty decent players in Rome and the other day he whipped Diego Schwartzman.

He’s got the confidence that I don’t think Nadal has right now. Yes, he beat Felix but remember Felix had never even won a match in Paris before, and he was down two sets in the first round.

It feels like the regular Rafa would have taken Felix out in three. Regular Rafa wouldn’t need to scrape by David Goffin in Madrid saving four match points!.

He also knows to beat Djokovic he’ll have to suffer both during and after — remember he played two matches the rest of the season the last time Rafa played Novak.

As long as Novak doesn’t go back to the drop shots like he did in that 2020 final and he serves well, the match is his. To me, the difference is the motivation. Djokovic has a chance to start fresh after that crushing US Open loss and Australian Open deportation. It’s a chance to rebuild and I think that’s what he does.

Nadal puts up a fight, but…
The Pick: Djokovic in 4

In the “undercard” it’s a rematch of the Madrid final between Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev. Both guys are lucky to make it this far after each saved match points last week.

Alcaraz escaped as Albert Ramos Vinolas chocked at the time of asking while Sebastian Baez couldn’t finish off the German.

Alcaraz rolled Zverev in that Madrid finale as Alexander was upset with the prior day scheduling.

This time, Alcaraz might have the complaint after playing his last two matches at night. Now he’s on the day session (he’ll be fine).

Obviously Alcaraz comes in as the favorite and under the microscope. He’s won his last 14 matches while Zverev hasn’t won a title all year and really hasn’t played well this week.

But Alcaraz has had his own wobbles as that weight of expectation keeps pressing down upon him. That weight will be ever greater tomorrow as now he’ll be the hunted rather than the hunter. He says he lives for these big matches, the big moments. Well, now he’s the one who expected to win and doing in best-of-5 against a top notch opponent (not Karen Khachanov).

Like Djokovic, Zverev will be motivated by what has been a disappointing 2022 in many ways, both on and off the court. And he’ll want to make up for that horrible showing in the Madrid final. Plus, this time he’ll be loose as the underdog. He might as well “just got for it.” So while I give him an excellent chance to win maybe a 5-setter, I’ll still go with the trend and that trend is Alcaraz.

He’s still making way too many unforced errors and the drop shots seem to be a bit off. But it’s not like Zverev’s been a ray of sunshine.

On the other side, Daniil Medvedev’s lack of play and lack of belief on the clay caught up to him today. Same for Stefanos Tsitsipas who is clearly still struggling with that blown chance a year ago. Coming back to Chatrier has resurrected those demons. But credit to Marin Cilic and Holger Rune for getting through along with Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev. Anyone of the four could emerge in that Sunday final. But the player that does, probably won’t be the favorite. That hasn’t changed.

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24 Comments for Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal In The French Open QFs, Who’s The Pick?

Giles Says:

Here’s hoping Sean’s curse comes into force! Lol

Nitesh Says:

Mind says Djokovic but heart will always says Rafa!! Vamos

Valerie Dean Says:

Rafa Nadal will win

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Novak is playing supreme tennis, with real fire in his belly. You can see the focus in his expression. I imagine he’s got a chip on his shoulder about his treatment on tour, being blocked from tournaments, etc, and I don’t think anyone today uses anger as well as Novak. He’s like a MacEnroe or Connors.

I had Novak as a bigger favourite pre-tourney, when we didn’t know how Rafa’s foot would hold up. Now we see it doesn’t seem to be a problem. If they were on equal footing here, I would pick Novak by a hair, but after Rafa’s 5 setter, knowing this match will be an absolute marathon, I think Novak’s edge is 2-hairs.
It will be a great match, I’m sure of that.

Next big question. Has there ever been a more lopsided draw at the quarterfinal point of a Slam? We have the 1,3,5,6 seeds on one side, including all 3 of the pre-tournament favourites, and the 7,8,12 and unseeded on other.

How about Cilic? I was starting to think Medvedev was the dark horse, but who saw Cilic coming? Thats a dark horse taken out by an even darker horse.

All out Says:

Wow!! I did not see this coming.. I thought after that third set zverev would implode as usual but he just hung on tough. If Nadal somehow manages to win his quarters, zverev will fancy his chances against a tired Nadal. But for that Nadal has to play well.. he has to play very aggressively right from the first ball till the last.. he just can’t keep the ball in play and hope for Nole to make a mistake like he did last year.. that’s going to be suicide.
If Nole wins in the quarters it’s lights out for zverev and Nole is once again the French open champion.

Dave Says:

At this point in his career, Alcaraz does have at least one weakness after all. You can definitely break down his backhand. His return can have issues sometimes as well. Zverev showed maturity at the end. He knew he had to WIN the match. Not just sit back and hope Alcaraz would miss.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Dave, I think you’re right, especially on clay. I think when its more difficult to hit a winner, you need to have all the options for direction, to be able to use the whole court.
Without the DTL BH, its probably that much easier to defend. (I am not a coach, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express).

Both players were great under pressure.

All Out, I can’t remember last years match, but for the last few years I’ve found their clay court matches actually more aggressive and entertaining than their hardcourt battles, which seem to be all defensive.

Kimmi Says:

Rafa with very very good start.

All out Says:

Djokovic getting into his groove now. This will be over in 4 and Rafa goes home :|

chrisford1 Says:

I cherish this rivalry.

Kimmi Says:

Rafa did not allow djokovic back this time!!

Kimmi Says:

Rafa!!! Vamos 💪💪

All out Says:

HOLY F@!K!!! Did this just happen??? I don’t care if he wins the French open this year. He just showed who the best clay court player of the last two decades really is. Unbelievable effort from Rafa!! Vamos!!!!

Anto Says:

Holy shit, how did Rafa pull this off. When djokovic came back from 2 breaks down in the second set to win that one, I thought it was going to be the repeat of last year. But rafa somehow managed to kee his nerves i check

skeezer Says:

I’ll pick Rafa. Greatest player of all time on Clay. He’s only lost 3 times out of over 100 matches here. He is the best here, for now and for the coming decades. 14 GS titles on this surface.

Oopsie… he just won. An old man now and he can still beat the #1 Novax. Humble and great role model for the game. Congrats Rafa, good luck to him and his loyal fans going forward. Get some rest dude.

PS; please call Fed and trash talk him to come out and play.

skeezer Says:

Oops again. 13 not 14(yet).He has so many I can’t count!

zed Says:

Magnificent match, I thought Novak would take the 4th set and the 5th would be brutal for both players. It was a gruelling match as it was, a 5th set would have sapped all remaining energy reserves.

So now Rafa vs Zverev, not being unkind but I don’t think anyone is picking Zverev.

Who will be in the final to meet Rafa? I’m thinking Rublev but there have been so many surprises already.

chrisford1 Says:

By rights, winner of Sasha-Rafa is the champ as far as I’m concerned.

Can anyone say this is not the greatest rivalry in the modern era of pro tennis and maybe one of the best in any sport??
So close in matching up, both warriors, each with strengths and admirable traits and oddities unique to them.

I’m already happy with the French Open because we had another close fought Rafa-Novak war.

And on the woman’s side, nice to see the personable and bright Coco Gauff (excellent interview doer) , and Iga Swiatek’s engaging, joyful play.

vrael Says:

Vamos Rafa!

Amazing grit.

Count rafa out at your own peril mr. Randall

Giles Says:

What? Rafa strikes again!
T w e n t y r w o !!!
Vamos Champ!

Giles Says:

Sorry,, got carried away, thought that was a final Rafa played! Lol.
Anyway, pleased as punch Rafa prevailed over you know who! Vamos Champ!

zed Says:

Giles, after that level of intense excitement did you lean back on the pillows and languidly smoke a cigarette?

Giles Says:

Lol Zed. Do you think I stopped at one? Chain smoking I was!
Well, that was one blockbuster match I must say and so happy my rafa came out victorious! Vamos Rafa!

Daniel Says:

At 3-0 up second set when Nadal missed the drop shot down break popijnt I thought that could be a point that cost him the match. Djokjovic found hios groove was hitting way harder and deep and level the match, but somehow he was still too erratic. Seems neither played their top A game at the same time. The match was a pendulum with each shifting momentum. But the credit was ll to Nadal, had Djoko cobverted one of those 2 SP, who knows what would’ve happened. NBadal clould still beat him 6-2 in fifht, noen knows. overall, he was the better player and deserve his win.

Going forward, Zverev if on, serving well (no multiple DF) and with his BH solid, definelty has chance. Nadal comes out from 2 long physically and mentally draining matches. Hsi body can feel it at any time. Even in Djoko match there was a sense ofurgency with him, trying to win as fast as he could once he realized Djoko was subpar first 2 sets. He may want the same thing, start stron to “scare” Zverev. If Zevrev could hold his own and drag the match as much as he can the better for him.

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