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EPIC RI­VALRY

Djokovic wary of Nadal threat at French Open

- Sports · Tennis · Paris · Novak Djokovic · Rafael Nadal · US Open · United States of America · New York City · Rome · Don Budge · Rod Laver · Dominic Thiem · Sweden · Roger Federer · Sweden national football team · Diego Schwartzman · Egor Gerasimov · Daniil Medvedev · Stefanos Tsitsipas · Stanislas Wawrinka

>>PARIS: No­vak Djokovic will re­new his love-hate re­la­tion­ship with Roland Gar­ros in the knowl­edge that it is him­self rather than seem­ingly un­set­tled 12-time cham­pion Rafael Nadal who could pose the great­est threat to win­ning a sec­ond Paris ti­tle and 18th Grand Slam crown.

The only man to beat Djokovic in 2020 is Djokovic af­ter the Serb’s hair-trig­ger tem­per prompted a sen­sa­tional dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion from the US Open.

The 33-year-old ar­rives in the French cap­i­tal with a 31-1 record this year af­ter his New York brain-fade was fol­lowed by a record 36th Masters ti­tle in Rome.

Djokovic’s 2016 tri­umph at Roland Gar­ros al­lowed him to be­come only the third man af­ter Don Budge and Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time.

Not even Nadal, the holder of 19 ma­jors, or Roger Fed­erer, with a record 20 Slams, can match that stag­ger­ing achieve­ment.

Fed­erer will miss the French Open as he re­habs his in­jured knee while Nadal has played just three matches since Fe­bru­ary, a ring-rusti­ness ev­i­dent in his quar­ter-fi­nal exit in Rome.

How­ever, Djokovic re­fused to get car­ried away by his chances at Roland Gar­ros ahead of to­day’s start in a wet and chilly Paris.

“It’s Nadal,” in­sisted the world No.1 when pushed on who is the favourite. “You just can’t put any­body in front of him.”

Djokovic is right to be cau­tious af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing nu­mer­ous low points on the red clay of Paris.

In the 2012 fi­nal against Nadal, hav­ing won eight games in a row, he was up a break and push­ing to level the match at two sets apiece when rain brought an overnight sus­pen­sion.

Play re­sumed the fol­low­ing day but Djokovic’s mo­men­tum was lost and a dou­ble-fault on cham­pi­onship point com­pleted his mis­ery.

Twelve months later, Djokovic was poised for a semi-fi­nal win over Nadal with just a rou­tine put­away re­quired to help give him a 5-3 fi­nal set lead and a chance to serve for the match.

How­ever, he chose a smash rather than a sooth­ing touch. He tum­bled into the net, los­ing the point and Nadal pounced to even­tu­ally take the tie af­ter four hours and 37 min­utes.

In 2018, he lost a quar­ter-fi­nal to world No.72 Marco Cecchi­nato while last year he was beaten in the semi-fi­nals by Do­minic Thiem.

That match took two days to com­plete, fea­tured nu­mer­ous rain stop­pages and winds so strong that a court­side um­brella was sent fly­ing across court.

Djokovic will start his tour­na­ment against Swe­den’s Mikael Ymer, the world No.80.

Nadal, who skipped the de­fence of his US Open ti­tle due to fears over coro­n­avirus, eyes a 13th French Open.

Since his ti­tle-win­ning de­but in 2005, Nadal has only lost twice at Roland Gar­ros in 95 matches — to Robin Soder­ling in 2009 and Djokovic in 2015.

The 34-year-old may ap­pear to be un­der-cooked af­ter his last-eight exit in Rome to Diego Schwartz­man.

How­ever, the last time he suf­fered such an early de­par­ture from the Ital­ian cap­i­tal was in 2017 — just weeks later he was lift­ing a 10th French Open with­out drop­ping a set.

Nadal be­gins his cam­paign against Egor Gerasi­mov, the 83rd-ranked Be­laru­sian.

Newly-crowned US Open win­ner Thiem will be in the same half of the draw as Nadal and starts against Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open win­ner and a for­mer world No.3.

World No.5 Daniil Medvedev has yet to win a match at the tour­na­ment in three vis­its while sixth-ranked Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas made the last 16 in 2019, los­ing a five-set marathon to 2015 cham­pion Stan Wawrinka.

Wawrinka faces fel­low three-time ma­jor win­ner Andy Mur­ray in the first round to­day in a re­match of their 2017 semi-fi­nal epic, a tie which Mur­ray de­scribed as the clash which “ended his hip”.

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 ??  ?? EYE­ING 18TH SLAM: No­vak Djokovic re­acts dur­ing the Ital­ian Open fi­nal against Diego Schwartz­man.
EYE­ING 18TH SLAM: No­vak Djokovic re­acts dur­ing the Ital­ian Open fi­nal against Diego Schwartz­man.

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