Nadal braced for ‘complex’ Djokovic in 52nd meeting

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LONDON: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are not quite opposites in craft, but as personalities they are poles apart. Sugar and salt. It is precisely this difference, this variation in function that gives their rivalry an edge, perhaps taking it a notch above that much-celebrated tango between the Spaniard and Swiss Roger Federer.

Nadal, the world No.1, and Djokovic, seeded 12, will meet for the 52nd time in a go-for-broke Wimbledon semifinals on Friday, in a clash which despite the rankings has no clear favourite. The other last-four match will be a giant affair with South African Kevin Anderson, seeded 8, playing the No.9-seed John Isner. But it is the match-up from the bottom-half of the men’s singles draw that has fans agog. The Serb leads the head-to-head 26-25 despite the Spaniard winning their last two meetings at a time when the 31-year-old was battling physical issues and a confidence crisis. Nadal needs no reminder of the stranglehold Djokovic had in a two-year stretch (2015-16), when he won seven successive matches against him, three of which came on clay.

Asked to comment on their rivalry the Spaniard went back to their titanic Melbourne meeting of six years ago, in the final of the Australian Open where they ran each other ragged for nearly six-hours in the longest Grand Slam final. “There is no one other (final) match in the history of tennis that was played for more than our match. That’s a big thing. We always played in important stages, important places,” Nadal, a two-time champion here, said, “Friday is another important match against an opponent that is one of the most difficult ones that you can face.”

Nadal, a 17-time major winner, who won here in 2008 and 10, is the in-form player, having won Roland Garros for the 11th time. He underlined that in fading light on Wednesday, when he put out fifth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro in five sets, but in his own words, the Serb is the big test.

“Always is a big challenge to face Novak. Is one of the more complex players that I ever saw in our sport,” Nadal said before shifting the focus on himself. “I did a lot of things well since I’m back from injury. I only lost one match. I know that semifinals is one of these matches that anything could happen. I know if you don’t play very well, you will not have the chance to win.”

Djokovic, ranked 21 in the world, has been picking up shattered pieces of body, mind and game in an 18-month scramble when he looked a shadow of the champion he was. The three-time winner here, however, appears to be on his way back. In a major semifinal for the first time since he made the US Open final in 2016 Djokovic said he was ‘pretty close’ to his dominating best, but was looking for more.

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