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Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal’s upcoming French Open quarter-final has been branded the “most important match” for men’s tennis “in the last 10 years”. The last-eight showdown marks the 59th meeting between the long-time rivals with Djokovic on a quest to equal Nadal’s all-time Grand Slam record of 21 titles this fortnight while the Spaniard will hope to extend his lead.
Djokovic and Nadal are facing off almost exactly a year after their last meeting in the 2021 French Open semi-final, when the world No 1 upset the 13-time champion before going on to lift the title – his then-19th Major crown. But retired former world No 4 Tim Henman believes the latest chapter of their rivalry will be the most important yet.
“There was Federer vs Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2019 but the consequences of this, with Rafa on 21 Slams and Djokovic on 20, trying to draw level, I think in the men’s game it’s the most important match in the last 10 years,” the former British No 1 told Eurosport. And three-time French Open also said it “felt like” the most significant match but admitted he had been duped in the past.
The former world No 1 said he had initially thought their semi-final 12 months ago would be the most important in the Grand Slam race but was proven wrong. “I thought last year’s semi-final was, and now we know it wasn’t, because Novak won, and then Rafa won the Australian Open,” he said.
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“This feels like it but who knows how long these guys will keep going. It’s just a privilege to be around and to get a seat and watch them.” The retired Swedish tennis icon also gave a prediction for the match, saying: “I think we are going to see a fast match in terms of ball striking and aggressiveness.
“The crowd are going to favour Rafa because he’s the only one here who is always the favourite and they still root for him; they usually root for the underdog. I think if that happens Novak is so good at turning that into a positive and using that adversity to fire himself up.”
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And despite both retired pros emphasising the importance of the match, Wilander thought Nadal and Djokovic wouldn’t feel the same about the clash and would instead treat it like any other quarter-final, with potentially tougher matches to come. “It’s a big match for us but for them it’s a quarter-final,” he explained.
“They then have to play perhaps the hottest player in the world in Alcaraz, then maybe Marin Cilic or Holger Rune, I think Rafa and Novak understand that better than we realise. It’s a big rivalry but I have to beat this guy and save some energy still, I think that’s the way they will be looking at it.”
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