Nadal and Djokovic reluctant cast in blockbuster

Tue Jun 2, 2015 8:56am EDT
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By Pritha Sarkar

PARIS (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic did not want it, Rafa Nadal was dreading it but fans will be transfixed when the world's two best claycourters face off in a seismic French Open quarter-final on Wednesday.

It will become the ultimate nightmare for one of the two gladiators -- both chasing records at this year's tournament and both desperate to avoid an early flight home.

"Of course I don't like playing a quarter-final against Novak, that's for sure, and I hope that Novak won't like playing me in a quarter-final," said Nadal, who is bidding to become the first man to win the same grand slam title 10 times.

Ever since the draw pitted the two on a last-eight collision course, Nadal stayed silent on the topic.

On Monday, Nadal, who beat Djokovic in two of the last three Roland Garros finals, finally declared: "It's the toughest quarter-final in my career here in Roland Garros, without a doubt. But is not the final. It's a quarter-final."

A match befitting the final of any grand slam stage has come two rounds early due to Nadal's slide down the rankings.

While injuries and appendicitis kept Nadal off court during the second half of 2014, 2015 has not been a stellar year by his own high standards -- he arrived in Paris without winning a European claycourt event for the first time in over a decade.

Nadal's woes meant he entered Roland Garros ranked seventh, and set him on the path to a horror 29th birthday date with Djokovic -- their earliest meeting in a tournament (not involving round robins) for eight years.   Continued...

Novak Djokovic of Serbia (L) shakes hands with Rafael Nadal of Spain after their semi-final match at the Monte Carlo Masters in Monaco April 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier