Novak Djokovic is hopeful every year. The main enemy of Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros, announced winner for several springs now, has not yet managed to overthrow the king. And preparation tournaments like Monte-Carlo, where he defeated Nadal once again, just like he did in 2013, often disappointed observers. Before a (and probably same) seventh episode on the 7th of June, we decided to go back on the last six false hopes.
"I had control of the game"
Quarter-finals 2006: 6/4 6/4 abandon
Who dared to say that? "I think I had control of the game, because everything depended on me. Everybody says that Rafael Nadal is unbeatable on clay, but it’s not my opinion." Still anonymous to the general public, Novak Djokovic passed for a very presumptuous man after his first match against the Spaniard. The back of the World 63rd had yet just "cracked" after two sets without a hitch for the defending champion. What's bitten then this 19-year-old Serb, who wasn’t even been able to beat the fourth fiddle Daniel Gimeno Traver in Barcelona? Apparently Djokovic knew that he would be a champion since he was a child. We didn't know it yet, much less than he would be one day.
“I understood how to play him”
Semi-finals 2007: 7/5 6/4 6/2
Novak Djokovic was no longer a stranger. After making it to the Top 10 in March after his title in Miami and a first victory against Nadal on the way, his coach Marian Vajda said that he finally "understood how play" with Nadal. The latter, however, took his revenge at the Foro Italico, leaving him only five little games, but Novak arrived in Paris with great fanfare. His large family - father, mother and others – went on a bender in the players' lounge, claiming that the prodigal son would soon be world number 1. In full Federer/Nadal era, this ambition sounded a bit cheeky! Especially when on the last Friday, Nadal deflated the Serb in three sets. Supported by the public, Djoko came back from 2-5 to 5-5 in the first set, but by wanting to dictate the rally at any price, he ended up out of fuel. He recognizes the superiority of his opponent, above him but not too much either: "I tried to be aggressive... but not the whole time to build the point and give me opportunities. I made a lot of drop shots to change pace and to make him run forward. And I think that it worked pretty well for two sets. "
“I can win, of course”
Semi-finals 2008: 6/4 6/2 7/6
2008 was the year when Novak Djokovic changed stature. Winner of his first Grand Slam in Australia, the Serb scored points on the 18th of May on the wet courts of Hamburg, finally taking a set to his rival in the semi-finals, a masterpiece of 3 hours after which the Spaniard said that he faced "the greatest defender in the history of tennis." Stronger than in 2007, Djokovic considered himself amongst the favourites in Paris: "I can win, of course." Especially since Nadal's body, turned off right from the beginning of the Rome’s tournament because of blisters, seemed to be floating down stream. The day of the match, with dark eyes and more focused than ever, Rafael yet played "his very best match at Roland Garros", according to uncle Toni. Djokovic was asphyxiated 3 sets to 0, without ever giving the impression of being able to do anything, despite a third set-ball. "The first two were very bad. I had no rhythm and made a lot of unforced errors," Djokovic post-match comments sounded like those of a sore loser, "It was difficult to play with this wind! And on the ball set, I was on the wrong side." But optimism is always appreciated: "I am young. The future belongs to me!”
“I’m another player, at the peak of my career”
Final 2012: 6/4 6/3 2/6 7/5
"I know, I lost three times against him here and I’ve never managed to take him a set, but I'm at the peak of my career now." If in Rome and Monte Carlo, Nadal broke a nasty series of 7 consecutive losses against him, Djokovic was full of hopes before the final in Paris. Inevitably, since for the past year, he had been the boss. In the last 16, he came back from being led two sets to zero against Andreas Seppi before passing three points from elimination against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Winner of the last three majors, the Serb could achieve the Grand Slam in two years, four in a row, an unprecedented feat since Rod Laver. But during the preparation tournaments, Nadal regained power, despite drowning in Madrid’s blue clay. "Rafa is trying to get the ball in front and hit more aggressively. It pays more. So, on clay, his game regains its intensity," then explained his coach and uncle. The day of the final, Djokovic was wearing a strap on the shoulder and missed the first two sets before the rain stopped his comeback early in the fourth set. The coach Patrick Mouratoglou was certain that: "2011 Djokovic would have won in three sets!" The player left the French capital with the same positive speech: "I have many years left, I know that I will come back stronger. »
The deceptive victory in Monte Carlo
Semi-finals 2013: 6/4 3/6 6/1 6/7 9/7
Rafael Nadal's prudence confused everybody. After a 2012 Year which ended in the month of July for him, he didn't consider himself as favourite before the semi-final. If he won Rome, Madrid and Barcelona, his only confrontation on clay against Djokovic turned to his disadvantage in Monte Carlo, where he had not lost since 2003. This time, Djokovic managed to perfectly exhaust Nadal, only back on track thanks to a rare fault. At 4-3 on his service and 40-40, the Serb hit the net before the end of a volley, offering an unexpected opportunity to break-back. Despite the court watering requested by Djokovic, Nadal didn’t let anything pass anymore, unlike Djokovic's nerves. The Serb finished the game by two forehand faults before revealing his admiration: "I congratulate him because he showed why he was a champion and why he's been dominating the French Open for so long.”
A victory by 2017?
Final 2014: 3/6 7/5 6/2 6/4
Cramped, Rafael Nadal himself claimed that he could not have played another ten minutes. But even with cotton legs, Nadal who had been dominated by Djokovic twice during preparation tournaments (as in 2011), finished as usual the fortnight by biting the Musketeers Cup. This time the Spaniard found the solution by seeking early in the rallies the shot that would kill the match, namely a long shot on the line. On a clay increasingly dried throughout the afternoon, the topspin became deadly. After the match, former French Open winner Mats Wilander said that Nadal would win at least two more titles in Paris by the end of his career. He also said that he believed that Djokovic could win at least once before 2017 so... eleven years after their first duel.