Novak Djokovic has suffered more than his fair share of heartache against Rafael Nadal at the French Open but Sunday's final offers him a chance to dethrone the claycourt king.

The 33-year-old Serb leads their extraordinary rivalry 29-26, but Nadal has won six of their seven clashes at Roland Garros, including the 2012 and 2014 finals.

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Djokovic won their last encounter on the Parisian clay, however, in the 2015 quarter-finals and believes Sunday's final offers him an opportunity to get the better of the Spaniard again even if he says playing Nadal on clay remains the toughest challenge in tennis.

"Obviously the conditions are different than the ones that we are used to playing in May and June," Djokovic told reporters after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets on Friday.

"I think that could be a better chance for me, obviously the ball not bouncing as high over the shoulder as he likes it usually. I mean, look, regardless of the conditions, he's still there, he's Rafa, he's in the finals, we're playing on clay."

Had it not been for Djokovic's default at the US Open for striking a line judge with a ball swatted away in frustration during a fourth round match against Pablo Carreno Busta, the Serbian might have been starting Sunday's showdown with 18 Grand Slam titles, one behind Nadal and two short of Roger Federer.

Highlights: The best of Novak Djokovic in reaching 2020 French Open final

Victory would see him close the gap but defeat would leave him three shy of both of them in the race for 'greatest of all time' status. The stakes are huge, but Djokovic says it is not the biggest match he has played in his career.

"Finals of a Grand Slam is always huge," the world number one said. "But I don't think it's the biggest match that I have ever played in my life. I think there were some bigger ones.

"In terms of importance, I mean, if I have to compare, even though I don't like, probably the first Wimbledon final that I actually played against him (in 2011). Wimbledon was always the one that I wanted to win as a kid and dreamed of winning.

Djokovic looking forward to facing 'greatest rival' Nadal

"That's probably the one that stands out. And the French Open 2016 against Andy Murray here. Every French Open final that I played was the match of my life before I actually won it.

"This is the (Grand Slam) that I won the least, so of course I am extremely motivated to try to get my hands on another one."

Despite the fact 12-time Roland Garros champion Nadal has sailed through the draw without dropping a set and Djokovic spent four hours beating Tsitsipas in a late finish on Friday, he said he will be firing on all cylinders on Sunday.

"I'm not feeling exhausted physically so much after tonight's match," he said. "It was a great battle. But I feel fine. I think a day and a half will be plenty of time for me to recover. I'm looking forward to a great battle with Rafa."

Highlights: The best of Nadal in reaching French Open final


If you are not prepared to suffer, then don't expect to contest the French Open final - that seems to be the motto of reigning champion Nadal.

Winning six successive matches in straight sets to reach the French Open final for a 13th time might have given the impression that Nadal has not exactly had to suffer too much hardship at Roland Garros this year.

But the Spaniard, who was out of competitive action for over six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was at pains to point out that not everything was as easy as it looks.

"It's important to go through all the process," the 34-year-old, who is in pursuit of a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title, told reporters

You have to suffer. You can't pretend to be in a final of Roland Garros without suffering. That's what happened there.

Nadal had been beaten in two sets by Diego Schwartzman at the Italian Open last month, but there was little chance of a repeat at the French Open on Friday.

Since 2005, only two men have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros and toppling the world number two in a best-of-five-set match on red dirt remains the ultimate challenge in tennis.

Highlights: King Nadal downs Schwartzman to reach 13th final

While the defeat to Schwartzman in the Rome quarter-finals might have exposed some rust in Nadal's armour after such a long hiatus, by the time he faced the Argentine again on Friday, he was battle ready.

Romping through to the last four in Paris by spending a total of only 10 hours on court meant the Spaniard was once again feeling invincible on his favourite surface.

"It's unusual. I didn't play much tennis for the last six months. To believe that you can keep doing this kind of stuff, you need to win matches, you need to go through this process again," the 12-time French Open champion said after his 6-3 6-3 7-6(0) win over Schwartzman.

"Winning these kind of matches, going through these moments with playing that aggressive with the forehand, knowing that you can have success like this, make me feel positive and make me feel confident. That helps, of course, for the future."

To add to Nadal's confidence, the weather forecast for Sunday is not too bad with mild conditions expected in Paris. They should be similar to the conditions the players experienced on Friday with a temperature of 16 degrees Celsius and a few sunny spells.

"The conditions out there today have been one of the best of the tournament, no?," said Nadal.

"It was 16 degrees, not much wind. I think the feeling is better."

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Additional reporting from Reuters.


Nadal’s parade into a 13th French Open final is a "joke" and "absolutely phenomenal", says Eurosport expert Tim Henman.

“It’s a joke. It’s absolutely phenomenal when you look at his history,” said Henman.

“He’s only lost two matches and got his 99th win. How he maintains the level of form, avoids the injuries, and reached a 13th final without dropping a set is incredible.”

Nadal record is 'absolutely phenomenal' at French Open

Mats Wilander is convinced Nadal would beat anyone on clay regardless of the climate.

“At Roland Garros you have to be willing to play when it’s 30 degrees, when the sun is shining and the ball is bouncing over your head, and then sometimes it is cold – even in May and June,” said Wilander, a three-time French Open champion.

“And today we saw the greatness of Rafael Nadal. It doesn’t really matter in the end what the conditions are like. He’s nearly impossible to beat.

“Of course he prefers the warmer weather. But you’re going to have to play for five hours to take Nadal on a slow clay-court. He adjusts to the conditions at Roland Garros by far better than anyone else.”

Watch the men's singles French Open final live on Eurosport, and the Eurosport app on Sunday - The match starts at 2pm BST.

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