Tim Henman believes that the French Open quarter-final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal is “the most important men’s match of the past 10 years”.
The two long-time rivals will meet for the 59th time on Tuesday evening.
Djokovic leads the record 30-28 and won their most recent meeting in the French Open semi-finals last year.
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If Djokovic wins again, it will be a step closer to a 21st Grand Slam title and equaling the record held by Nadal.
Asked about the significance of the match, former British top seed Henman said at Eurosport: “There was a [Roger] Federer against Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2019 but the consequences of that, with Rafa on 21 slams and Djokovic on 20, trying to draw, I think in the men’s game it’s the most important match in the last 10 years.”
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wellander added: “I thought last year’s semi-final was, now we know it wasn’t, because Novak won, then Rafa won the Australian Open.
“It sounds like but who knows how long these guys will last. It is such an honor to be around and have a seat and watch.”
The winner of the match will face either Carlos Alcaraz or Alexander Zverev, who will meet earlier on Tuesday.
There has been controversy over whether Djokovic’s match against Nadal will be scheduled for the evening session, with circumstances seemingly playing out in favor of the world number 1 seed.
However, Nadal beat Djokovic in straight sets in the final when he won the 2020 French Open final when the tournament was held in the fall following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we’re going to have a quick game in terms of kicks and aggressiveness,” Welander said.
“The fans will prefer Rafa because he’s the only one here who’s always the favourite and they still cheer him on; they usually root for the underdog. I think if that happens Novak is very good at turning that into a positive and using those adversities to excite himself.”
Whoever emerges from the first half of the draw is likely to be the strongest candidate in the final after losing world number two Daniil Medvedev and world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas on Monday.
Wellander believes that Djokovic and Nadal understand there is still more to come despite the anticipation around their meeting.
“It’s a big match for us but it’s a quarter-final match. Then they have to play maybe the hottest player in the world for Alcaraz, then maybe Marin Cilic or Holger Rune, I think Rafa and Novak understand that better than we do.
“It’s a big competition but I have to beat this guy and save some energy, I think that’s how they’re going to look at it.”
Djokovic has won nine games in a row without dropping a set and says he expects a physical confrontation against Nadal.
“I’m glad I didn’t spend much time on the field myself until the quarter-finals, knowing that playing with him at Roland Garros is always a physical battle, along with everything else.
“It’s a huge challenge and probably the biggest challenge you can face here at Roland Garros. I’m ready for it…I love the way I was feeling, the way I was hitting the ball. I’m going to focus on what I need to do.”
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