It will be a moment down in history books as it always has been when the Goliaths Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal battle it out. In a year marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, a Nadal-Djokovic encounter will undoubtedly be the biggest match-up of the season. It’s the biggest rivalry in the sport, and on Sunday, in the final of the French Open, another chapter will be added to the list of epics between the duo. Djokovic and Nadal are two generational talents whose styles of play have helped define the modern game
Rafael Nadal, a 12-time French Open champion, has never lost a final at Roland Garros and has never been pushed past four sets. In this year’s tournament, Nadal has once again appeared entirely dominant on his favored red clay, and has yet to drop a set in any match.
Novak Djokovic, the top seed and 17-time Grand Slam singles champion, is on a quest to win each of the four Grand Slam events for a second time. He is one of the only two men who have defeated Nadal at Roland Garros.
Of course it is important to bring up the final member of the tennis triumvirate, Roger Federer, who did not play in this year’s French Open or United States Open as he recovers from knee surgery. Federer holds 20 Grand Slam singles titles, and both Nadal and Djokovic are on his heels. Nadal could secure his 20th major title on Sunday to tie that men’s record, while Djokovic could win his 18th.
Sunday will mark the 56th match-up between the two legends. It’s the most-played tie in the history of the sport. Djokovic leads 29-26 in the 55 matches played so far. At the Grand Slams, they’ve faced each other 15 times, and eight times in the final, sharing a 4-4 record. This will be the third time they’re facing off in a French Open final, with Nadal winning both the previous meetings in 2014 and 2012. At Roland Garros, they have met seven times and Nadal has a 6-1 edge. Their first-ever meeting on tour also happened to be at the French Open, in the 2006 quarterfinal.
Nadal has never lost the final of the French Open. In fact, he’s only lost two matches at the clay-court Grand Slam — in a four-set fourth-round loss to Robin Soderling of Sweden in 2009, and in straight sets to Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinal. He’s won 12 titles at Roland Garros so far, and a 13th on Sunday will see Nadal’s tally increase to 20 Grand Slam titles, taking him level with Roger Federer’s all-time record. If Nadal wins Sunday’s final in straight sets, it’ll be the fourth time he’d have won a Major without dropping a set, taking him past joint-record holders Bjorn Borg and American Richard Sears.
If Djokovic wins, he’ll become the only player to have won the French Open after beating Nadal in that edition. He’ll also be the only player to have beaten the Spaniard in the final of the tournament. His overall tally of Grand Slams will move up to 18, which will see him trail Nadal by one and Federer by two titles. He will also become the only player in the Open Era to have won each Grand Slam at least twice. Federer hasn’t done it since he (and Djokovic) have won the French Open just once in 2009 and 2016 respectively, and Nadal has only one Australian Open title (2009) to his name.
With a 37-1 record this year, the top seed is in peak form. The question is, can he rise to the occasion and overcome one of the biggest challenges in sport for the second time?
Prediction: Nadal wins in 5 sets.