Okay y'all - the match of this year's French Open has finally arrived: 3-time defending champion Rafael Nadal will battle Novak Djokovic in the first Men's Marquee Matchup for a place in Sunday's final and the no. 2 ranking.
Rafa has barely broken a sweat or broken out his trademark kick/fist pump dance move getting to this round, losing only 25 games along the way - an open era record. The Mallorcan Matador completely outclassed and embarrassed compatriot Nicolas Almagro, no slouch in the dirtballing department himself, with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 scoreline. Nole had a more challenging time with friend Ernests Gulbis but used his superior experience on key points and knocked out the Latvian 7-5, 7-6 (3), 7-5. These two ballers most recent meeting was at the Hamburg Masters where the Spaniard pulled out a thrilling 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 win.
Here's what Rafa had to say about battling the Serb:
Q: Playing Djokovic is always difficult and dangerous. On clay you have an added value, so you walk on the court knowing that you have an advantage as compared to other surfaces.
A: As I said, all matches are different and open. This is what we saw in Hamburg. Of course, I prefer playing on clay in the semifinal rather than playing on hard surfaces, but he can play very beautiful tennis on clay. He won at Rome; semifinal in Hamburg; semifinal in Monaco, and he lost to me or to Federer. He also reached the semifinal here in Paris. That's the second time in a row, so he's a very good player on clay, quite clearly.
Nole had this to say about taking on Rafa:
Q: Is this the ultimate challenge in tennis, playing against Nadal on clay?
A: Well, yeah. In this position, yeah. In this period of the year when he's so dominant in last couple of years on this surface, he's never lost a match on the center court in the French Open, you know, he's ‑‑ all to his favor. But it's a big challenge for me, I think, as the third player of the world and Grand Slam winner this year. He has, you know, things have quite changed since the last year playing on clay. I think I have more quality in my game and more variety, so hopefully I can use it against him.
Outlook: The Serb won't make an impression on this match if he stays at the baseline. He'll need to use variety and come in when the opportunity hits. But Rafa can hit incredible passing shots on the run and his defense is tops so Nole's approaches will need to be accurate and aggressive. But to do this time and time again against the Spaniard is exhausting physically and, more importantly, mentally.
You'd be a fool, a fool I say, to pick against the "Muscles from Mallorca". He seems more determined to than ever to win for the fourth straight time and make a statement about his place in the game. But Nole will come in with his motivations to claim the no. 2 ranking a challenge for the top.
But it's Rafa and it's clay and that combination is deadly. So I'll take Rafa in three tough sets to make his fourth consecutive Roland Garros final!
(image via Getty)