World number one Novak Djokovic and nine-time champion Rafael Nadal duel for a French Open semi-final place on Wednesday in a match-up that has been discussed and dissected ever since the draw was made.
The two great rivals meet for the 44th time and for the fourth year in succession at Roland Garros.
Nadal, who is 29 on Wednesday, takes a 70-1 record at the tournament into the marquee clash while Djokovic, who has lost all six times he has faced the Spaniard in Paris, looks to take another step closer to a first title in the French capital and a career Grand Slam.
In the last three years, Nadal has emerged triumphant — in the 2012 and 2014 finals and 2013 semi-finals.
But Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite to break that stranglehold this year and is on a 26-match win streak. The 28-year-old has lost just twice all year and has not been defeated since February.
Since the turn of the year, he has won a fifth Australian Open as well as Masters titles at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome.
Nadal, who will drop out of the world top 10 for the first time if he loses, believes all the pressure is on the top-seeded Serb even if he admitted it will be the “toughest quarter-final” he has ever played.
“My situation is different to Novak’s. If I don’t win I will think about the next tournament,” said Nadal who hasn’t faced Djokovic this early in a tournament since Rome in 2007.
Djokovic believes Nadal will feel at home on the showpiece centre court.
“The conditions are very suited to his style of game. He loves playing on Court Philippe Chatrier,” he explained.
The winner will face either British third seed Andy Murray or Spanish seventh seed and 2013 runner-up David Ferrer who go head-to-head on Court Suzanne Lenglen as both look to reach the last-four at Roland Garros for a third time.
Murray is looking to become the first British player to reach three semi-finals in Paris while Ferrer could become the fifth Spanish man to reach the semi-finals three times.
Murray has a 9-6 career edge over the 33-year-old but the Spaniard has won all four meetings on clay, including at Roland Garros in the quarter-finals in 2012.
In the women’s singles, world number one Serena Williams takes on 2012 runner-up Sara Errani of Italy having made the last-eight the hard way — she has had to come from dropping the first set in her last three rounds.
That could be an omen, however, as the last time that happened to her at a major she went on to win the title — at the 1999 US Open, the first of her 19 Grand Slam titles.
The winner will face one of two first-time semi-finalists — Timea Bacsinszky, the 23rd seeded Swiss, or unseeded Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium, the world number 93. – Agence France-Presse