Before the encounter, which could be crucial in the race for another Grand Slam title (Nadal has 21 to Djokovic’s 20), the former World No. 1 spoke to ATPTour.com about the keys to the match.
How is Nadal looking coming into the match?
Good, we believe. He’s come through four matches; one of them was tough. He’s come through adversity. I always prefer him to have spent as little time as possible in court, but this time matches with complications could help him.
Will the more than four-and-a-half hours against Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round take its toll?
Rafa normally recovers well from these marathons, especially on clay. There aren’t normally any problems. I don’t think it’ll be a handicap. He is restored and fresh. Everything’s fine.
“This time, and 2015, are the two times that Djokovic is more clearly favourite,” Nadal said yesterday of the match.
No. For me, on clay Rafa is always favourite, even when he retires (laughs). Of course, I’m part of the team and it’s difficult for me not to be biased. We always expect the best of Nadal and I think he’ll be at his best tomorrow so that he can win. It’s a very tough match, but we believe Rafa is ready.
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What do you have to do to beat Djokovic?
You have to play a high level of tennis, more than just tactics. It will go well if Rafa competes like he did in the last three games of the match against Auger-Aliassime. You have to maintain that intensity throughout to have chances against an opponent like Djokovic.
How have you prepared for the quarters?
Today we wanted him to move a bit—to sweat and a little more. They know each other very well. The most important thing is that he is aware that he has to play a good match and that he strikes the ball well. Everything else will follow.
He’s playing well and confidently. It’s Djokovic, but Nadal is on our team. I’m always confident Rafa has another rabbit in a hat he can pull out at the last minute. An ace up his sleeve from him.
Have you watched old matches?
Yes, of course. I’ve watched the 2022 and 2021 matches to prepare for today’s training, thinking about what we’ll do tomorrow. Which things unsettle him, which things can hurt him…
So, what do you tell Nadal on a tactical level?
I used to tell him much more, when we started working together. At first, when someone new arrives, you try to instill things in them. Not too much, because it dilutes the message, but now it’s more reminders of aspects that have been forgotten. A couple of years ago it was more tactical, but now it is all better established in his mind.
Is what happened last year a lesson?
Every match is a separate story. Last year we came here having won the final in Rome, and ended up losing. In 2020 we arrived in a different situation and he came through. I don’t think what happened in 2021 has any impact on Tuesday.
Nadal said yesterday that it could be his last match at Roland Garros…
That’s the reality. We never know what will happen in one year. It’s clear that he’s playing a match where there’s a risk of losing. I think he is saying that more in that sense, but I’m confident and I hope it’s not his last match of him in Paris.
The match will be played at night. How does that affect him?
The conditions are much livelier during the day, the ball bounces higher and Rafa’s game is more dangerous. Two years ago they played under the roof, it was cold and at night. It was a close atmosphere and he played an amazing game. The preference was to play in the day, but it doesn’t matter; it’ll be at night and we’ll try and win.
You’re always brimming with optimism. What does Nadal say to you about that?
Sometimes he laughs at me. It’s the way I am, the way I approach life. That’s not going to change. And being with him, my perspective is more realistic than optimistic. I have complete confidence in Rafa. I’m optimistic and positive in life in general, but in his case, I’m realistic.