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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

After Loss to Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic Eager to Face His Rival in Paris

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Rafael Nadal announced his return to Roland Garros by winning the Lyon Open, and in a few weeks will be playing his own tournament in Paris: the French Open.

Although Nadal will be seeded eighth this year, and thus won’t have a home-court advantage, he is expected to play well enough to at least bring the record of titles to a career-high 20.

If he wins that title — and one is a certainty — it would tie Pete Sampras’s record, tied in 2002.

Novak Djokovic, seeded number one, is Nadal’s main challenger for Roland Garros, although his own record in France is hardly sterling.

On Tuesday, he departed the Mexico Open with a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 loss to Leonardo Mayer. It was his fourth exit from a tournament since Nadal beat him in the French Open final, a final that was played in the humidity of Toulouse.

“It’s quite negative,” Djokovic said, before further noting: “Everyone knows that I did better this year in clay. But Nadal is a special player.”

Nadal’s dominance is another reminder that tennis is a tricky sport, even in a professional era when the best players on the tour play at least 16 tournaments a year, and are free to take time off when necessary.

It is no coincidence that the best players of each generation play the best tennis of their careers around the most important tournaments of their sport: this month’s Davis Cup final, the Australian Open in January, the French Open in May, Wimbledon in July, and the U.S. Open in September.

Oddly, Djokovic is just now beginning to play his best tennis around such tournaments. Earlier this year, at the Australian Open, he beat Nadal on the first day. In London, he made the final. In Cincinnati, he won. And in Miami, he won.

In all, Djokovic has been 3-0 against Nadal on clay this year.

“Last year I was prepared much better because I won this tournament,” he said of the Monte Carlo Masters. “Obviously this time, I know it was a tough loss.”

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