French Open 2015: Rafael Nadal books blockbuster quarter-final with old foe Novak Djokovic

No two male players have played each other more frequently in the Open era, but they have never had a meeting quite like this

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The Independent Online

It will be perhaps the most eagerly awaited quarter-final showdown in Grand Slam history. Ever since the draw for the French Open was made 11 days ago the talk has been of Rafael Nadal’s impending confrontation with Novak Djokovic and their fourth-round victories ensured that the two heavyweights will enter the ring together for the 44th time in their careers here tomorrow.

No two male players have played each other more frequently in the Open era, but they have never had a meeting quite like this. The Serb and the Spaniard have contested 22 finals, including seven at Grand Slam level, but this is the first quarter-final they have contested for eight years, such a confrontation having been made possible by Nadal’s fall to No 7 in the world  rankings after a 12-month period in which he has won only one minor title.

Djokovic, the world No 1, has long been the favourite to win the title here given his outstanding form this year, but Nadal is the man with the best record in the history of the tournament, having won the title nine times and lost only one of the 70 matches he has played on these courts.

Monday’s results confirmed the storylines that have been written over and over again in recent weeks. Djokovic, who has lost only two matches this year, crushed Richard Gasquet 6-1, 6-2,  6-3, while Nadal’s vulnerability appeared to be confirmed in the third set of his 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 victory over the world No 37, Jack Sock, who was attempting to become the first American to beat a top-10 seed here for 15 years.

Nadal, nevertheless, said he was “very, very happy” with his performance, particularly in the first two sets. He described Tuesday’s meeting with Djokovic as the toughest quarter-final he has ever had to play here but stressed: “This is not the final, you know. It’s a quarter-final. The winner will not be the champion of Roland Garros. That makes a big difference. Even if it’s a special match, it’s still a quarter-final.”

Novak Djokovic has never beaten Nadal at Roland Garros and has twice lost to him in the final

The defending champion described Djokovic as “the best player in the world today, without any doubt” and said the Serb was everyone’s favourite to win the title. Nadal, nevertheless, has played better in his first four matches here and appears to be putting behind him the self-doubts that had troubled him in recent months.

“I am enjoying being on court again because I’m able to play more days with calm,” he said. “When you enjoy yourself on court and you win you feel ready to compete. I think I am doing better now.”

Nadal can also derive confidence from his record against Djokovic, having won all six of their previous meetings at Roland Garros. In the last three years he has beaten Djokovic twice in the final and once in the semi-finals.

The quarter-final line-up is arguably the strongest in the history of the tournament. For the first time ever all eight quarter-finalists are men who have played in Grand Slam finals, with five of them having won Grand Slam titles. The other quarter-final in the top half of the draw pitches Andy Murray against David Ferrer, while this afternoon’s two matches will see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the last home player, take on Kei Nishikori, with Court Suzanne Lenglen staging an all-Swiss confrontation between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka.

Federer reached the quarter-finals for the 11th time, extending his own record, by completing a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4,  6-1 victory over Gaël Monfils, who has been suffering with influenza. “Mentally, it’s a little bit bizarre to play one another,” Federer said as he looked forward to taking on Wawrinka, his friend and fellow countryman.