“The match with Djokovic could be my last match here,” Nadal said on Sunday, sounding somber. “I know Roland Garros during the day and prefer to play during the day. I’ve gone through a complicated situation with my foot, and I don’t know what’s going to happen with my career. What I’m trying to do is enjoy and continue living the dream to play tennis and get to the final rounds of Roland Garros.”
Despite that plea, the French Open organizers remained unconvinced or perhaps had contractual obligations to Amazon Prime Video, which holds the night-session rights in France.
No. 59 will be a night match, just as the remarkable semifinal between the two at last year’s French Open turned into one after starting in the late afternoon.
“Unfortunately, every year they play one round earlier here,” said Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach. “Two years ago it was the final. Last year it was the semis and now the quarters, but it’s probably the best quarterfinal ever in the history of the French Open.”
Their two previous quarterfinal duels at Roland Garros were actually no great shakes. In the first in 2006, their first meeting at any level, Djokovic retired with an injury after losing the first two sets.
In 2015, Djokovic, in peak form with Nadal in an extended slump, became only the second man to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros, routing him 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in what looked, incorrectly, like the end of an era for Nadal at the French Open. He has gone on to win it four more times.
But he did not win it last year as Djokovic became the first man to beat Nadal twice at the French Open, prevailing 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in a match that’s intensity and shotmaking peaked in the third set before Nadal, struggling with his foot and Djokovic’s excellence, faded in the fourth.