Novak Djokovic advanced to the Roland Garros semifinals for the 11th time in his career by registering a four-set win over Matteo Berrettini on Wednesday. He will now face 13-time champion Rafael Nadal on Friday, in what many believe is the biggest match of the tournament.
Nadal has dominated the French Open over the years in a way that no tennis player has ever dominated a single event. But in his press conference after beating Berrettini, Novak Djokovic expressed belief that he can beat the Spaniard in the semifinals.
The Serb was first asked how he felt about the fact that he was one of only two players to have ever defeated Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. In response, Djokovic pointed out how rare that feat was, and also acknowledged that he was dominated by Nadal in last year's final - where the conditions were 'different'.
"I'm not the only one who beat him here. Soderling did, but that’s it (laughs)," Novak Djokovic said. "We had some battles over the years, but last year he dominated. Conditions are going to be different, I hope I will be able to perform better than in 2020."
Novak Djokovic further asserted that he wouldn't be in the tournament if he didn't believe he had a chance of winning, before giving his thoughts on what makes his rivalry with Rafael Nadal special. The Serb claimed there is "extra tension" in each of their high-stakes encounters, and that facing Nadal was the "biggest challenge in tennis".
"I am confident, I believe I can win," Djokovic said. "Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Let’s have a great battle."
"Let’s face it, it’s not like any other match, it’s the biggest challenge in tennis," he added. "Each time we face each other, there is extra tension. Vibe is different walking on the court with him, but I think that is why our rivalry is, I feel, historic for tennis."
"It’s unfortunate, the atmosphere was Davis Cup like" - Novak Djokovic on fans leaving due to curfew
The last segment of Novak Djokovic's quarterfinal against Matteo Berrettini was played before empty seats. The fans were forced to leave the venue during the fourth set due to the 11 pm local curfew, and that robbed the contest of the electrifying atmosphere it had in the first three sets.
The eviction of the fans also meant there was a small break midway through the fourth set, which Novak Djokovic suggested was helpful as it allowed him to regroup. The Serb also called it "unfortunate" that the spectators had to leave after having offered their raucous support earlier, and likened their cheers to the partisan atmosphere seen at Davis Cup fixtures.
"I didn’t mind leaving the court, I felt like I needed a bit of a break," Djokovic said. "It's unfortunate, but we knew it before the match. The atmosphere was Davis Cup like, electric, with cheering and screaming."
When asked to shed light on his exuberant celebration at the end of the match, Novak Djokovic replied that the struggle to make inroads on Matteo Berrettini's serve during the last two sets put him under a lot of pressure.
"In third and four set, it was very difficult to read his serve. He’s got a lethal forehand. When he’s on, it’s hard to play him," Djokovic said. "I felt the tension entire time. I missed some chances. It was super stressful to constantly be under pressure in my games since he served so well. The end celebration was me liberating that tension that was building up."