They played 55 battles. The first, in a very distant quarter-final at Roland Garros 2006. The last, a few months ago at the brand new ATP Cup in Sydney. The duel has Novak Djokovic as a slight dominator by 29 to 26, but Rafael Nadal keeps something particular from one of those victories.
“It is always special to play against Novak, nobody makes me go more to the limit than him,” Rafa said in a conference after beating him 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 and 6-1 in the final of the US Open 2013. Some Months before, in Paris, Nadal did the impossible: react 2-4 down in the fifth set and defeat his nemesis 9-7 after more than four and a half hours of play.
Six years after that game, the Mallorcan had it well present. Even minutes after beating Dominic Thiem in four sets and winning his twelfth Roland Garros title. “What is the win that has cost me the most? It could be the semi-final with Djokovic in 2013. Of the 93 games I have won (NdR: at Roland Garros until before this edition) it is the one I have been closest to losing” , stood out in Brand.
That year was special for Rafa. He had been inactive for seven months due to a knee injury, ran into Nole six times – with three victories per side – and ended up snatching the No. 1 in the world at the end of the season, in what meant the second of his three cycles at the top of the ranking.