Tim Henman believes the French Open quarter-final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal is the “most important men’s match in the last 10 years”.
The two long-time rivals will meet for the 59th time on Tuesday evening.
Djokovic leads the head-to-head record 30-28 and won their most recent meeting in the semi-finals of the French Open last year.
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If Djokovic wins again he would be a step closer to a 21st Grand Slam title and equalling the record held by Nadal.
Asked about the significance of the match, former British No. 1 Henman said on Eurosport: “There was [Roger] Federer v Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2019 but the consequences of this, with Rafa on 21 Slams and Djokovic on 20, trying to draw level, I think in the men’s game it’s the most important match in the last 10 years.”
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander added: “I thought last year’s semi-final was, and now we know it wasn’t, because Novak won, and then Rafa won the Australian Open.
“This feels like it but who knows how long these guys will keep going. It’s just a privilege to be around and to get a seat and watch them.”
The winner of the match will face either Carlos Alcaraz or Alexander Zverev, who meet earlier on Tuesday.
There was debate over whether Djokovic v Nadal would be scheduled for the evening session, with the conditions seemingly set to favour the world No. 1.
However, Nadal beat Djokovic in straight sets in the final when he won the French Open final in 2020 when the tournament was played in autumn after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I think we are going to see a fast match in terms of ball striking and aggressiveness,” said Wilander.
“The crowd are going to favour Rafa because he’s the only one here who is always the favourite and they still root for him; they usually root for the underdog. I think if that happens Novak is so good at turning that into a positive and using that adversity to fire himself up.”
Whoever emerges from the top half of the draw is likely be the strong favourite in the final after world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and world No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas both lost on Monday.
Tsitsipas made the final last year but was beaten in four sets by 19-year-old Holger Rune, while Medvedev lost to an inspired Marin Cilic.
Wilander thinks Djokovic and Nadal will be aware that there is still more to come despite the anticipation around their meeting.
“It’s a big match for us but them it’s a quarter-final. They then have to play perhaps the hottest player in the world in Alcaraz, then maybe Marin Cilic or Holger Rune, I think Rafa and Novak understand that better than we realise.
“It’s a big rivalry but I have to beat this guy and save some energy still, I think that’s the way they will be looking at it.”
Djokovic has won nine matches in a row without dropping a set and says he is expecting a physical battle against Nadal.
“I'm glad that I didn't spend too much time on the court myself up to quarter-finals, knowing that playing him in Roland Garros is always a physical battle, along with everything else.
“It’s a huge challenge and probably the biggest one that you can have here in Roland Garros. I'm ready for it… I like the way I have been feeling, the way I have been hitting the ball. I will focus on what I need to do.”
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