‘Rafael Nadal and I pushed each other to the limits in Rome,’ says Novak Djokovic

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the top favorites to reach the Roland Garros semi-final in the top half, hoping to beat five rivals and set the clash for a place in the final. Novak is aware of how tough it is to beat Rafa in Paris, but he wants to give his best in that potential clash. Djokovic dropped the last five encounters on clay against the Spaniard but pushed Rafa to the limits in the Rome final a few weeks ago before falling in three sets. Nadal earned his tenth Rome Open crown following a hard-fought 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 triumph over world no. 1 Djokovic after two hours and 50 minutes. Rafa secured the 36th Masters 1000 crown to match Djokovic’s record, bouncing back from the quarter-final losses in Monte Carlo and Madrid to earn numerous records at Foro Italico. Rafa fired 37 winners and 23 unforced errors to overpower a great rival and beat him for the 28th time in 57 encounters!

Nadal won only a couple of points more than Djokovic, trailing in the more extended rallies and erasing that deficit in the quickest exchanges up to four strokes that secured the victory for him. They broke each other in the encounter’s early stages and stayed neck and neck for over an hour in the opening set. Rafa grabbed a crucial break at 5-5 when Novak netted an easy forehand and held after deuce to wrap up the set and gain momentum. Djokovic raised his level in set number two and left Nadal far behind with a double break, rattling off five straight games to become a favorite ahead of the decider. Battling hard to remain in touch, Rafa saved break chances at 2-2 in the final set and grabbed a break at love in the next one to open a 4-2 gap. Djokovic saved a match point in game eight with a service winner before Nadal moved over the top with a hold at 30 a few minutes later.

Novak Djokovic gathered confidence despite the Rome Open final loss to Nadal.

“The win in Belgrade gave me excellent preparation. I’m in a good state of mind and body, striking the ball well. Now it’s really about just taking step by step, being in the present moment and building the form to play better and better as the tournament progresses. When you speak about Rafa, you know that he’s always going to give you his best on any surface. He’s always going to produce some high-quality tennis, particularly on clay. That’s his most preferred surface and where he’s always at his best. Record-wise, I lost the last five matches on clay against Rafa; we had some close battles, and he dominated the others. I couldn’t match his level, and it’s always high when he plays on clay; if you can’t respond in the same way, you don’t stand a chance against him.

I know there’s a build-up potentially for that match-up in the semi-final, but there are many obstacles to overcome before that. If we get there, of course, I know what is expected of me and what I need to do. Last year, I had a great run at Roland Garros, but he played fantastic tennis in the final and I couldn’t do much. Hopefully, if I get a chance to play him again in Paris, the level of my tennis will be different. For example, we pushed each other to the limits in Rome a few weeks ago, staying in touch until the last point. That match gives me good feelings ahead of our potential clash here in Paris. Still, we both have to stay focused only on our next match,” Novak Djokovic said.

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