With a place in the final of the Rogers Cup on the line and plenty more beside, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet for the 36th time on Saturday to equal the record with John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl for the most meetings between two players in the Open era. With due respect to Canadian favorite Milos Raonic, who awaits in the final, both players will know that a victory in the last four would give them a great chance of adding yet another Masters 1000 title to their mammoth collections. But, with the US Open just a couple of weeks away, Nadal and Djokovic will also be aware that the match gives both a chance to lay down a hard-court marker ahead of the year’s final Grand Slam.
Plenty of questions have been asked about whether Nadal’s troublesome knees can hold up to the North American hard-court, culminating at Flushing Meadows. Yet, in his first tournament since being stunningly knocked out in the first-round of Wimbledon, Nadal has progressed to the weekend unscathed, without the loss of a set. Still, he has yet to come up against a player in the same class as the man he has grown to know better than any other on the tennis court in recent years.
“The conditions here are probably more favorable for him,” Nadal said of the upcoming duel with Djokovic following his defeat of Marinko Matosevic in the quarterfinals. “Yes, we are playing on hard, but especially the conditions here.” It is one of the fastest courts on hard-court tournaments outdoors.
“But is something I accept,” he added. “It’s not a problem for me. I’m happy the way that I am doing things this week. I’m excited to play against a very tough opponent, one of the best, the best today. I need to play my best tomorrow if I want to have any chance.”
Nadal has triumphed twice before in Canada, while he also showed his continued ability to prosper on hard courts by hoisting the trophy in Indian Wells earlier this year as part of his almost faultless return from a knee injury. Djokovic, though, is going for his fourth win in Canada. For the Serbian, too, the memory of the pair’s last match when Nadal again denied him his dream of winning the French Open will surely loom large.
After being forced to battle three sets to oust Denis Istomin, Djokovic stormed to victory over Richard Gasquet for the loss of just three games in the quarterfinals. After which the world No. 1 again treated the crowd to a celebratory dance in the middle of the court. The mood is likely to be a lot more serious with Nadal on the other side of the court, however.
“He's playing exceptional tennis,” Djokovic said of the Spaniard.”Since he came back from seven months of absence, he won everything except one title. I mean, that says enough about his game and where he is at the moment.”
But Djokovic was also not shy in admitting that the surface this week gives him the best chance against his rival. “Again, hard court is my most preferred surface,” he added. “I feel that that's maybe the place where I have more chances against him than on clay, definitely. So if I get to play him, of course it's going to be a huge challenge for both of us, but I'll be ready for it.”
Where to watch: The Rogers Cup semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is scheduled to get underway at 8 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.