Nadal celebrates Sunday's win against Aliassime.

After the dust generated by the decision of the organization ―night shift, not before 8:45 p.m.; Eurosport―and the litany of technical analyses, opinions and speculations―high bounce and low bounce, live or dead ball, cold or heat, humidity or dry sand…―it’s time for tennis. of the great crossing Tonight, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet again in a long-awaited and repeated duel. With today’s, there will be 59 episodes starring the two, the 28th on clay, the 10th on clay in Paris, where two clearly inverted dynamics are intertwined: what for one was all black is today blue, and vice versa . January here, two completely different movies.

After more than half a year in the infirmary, coming to consider ending his career because his left foot gives him no respite, Nadal rebelled as only he knows how. The more adversity, the better response. He triumphed in Australia, graced the Resurrection with two other trophies (Melbourne and Acapulco) and chained 21 consecutive wins, until the body told him enough ―fissure in the rib first, the martyrdom of the foot later― and the ghosts returned. “This could be my last match at Roland Garros,” he said enigmaticly after dodging a tough matchup with Felix Auger Aliassime in the round of 16 in Paris.

Nadal arrived at his Dorado between doubts, with the right preparation and, for the first time, without winning any prize on clay. “I will be 36 years old [el 3 de junio] and I don’t know how many Roland Garros I have left to play”, he explained in the prelude to the tournament. “But if I didn’t believe that I couldn’t win, I wouldn’t be here”, added the man from Manacor, who over the days ―Thompson, Moutet, Van de Zandschulp and Aliassime on the track― has been recovering rhythm and sensations, but not has managed to definitively clear the questions. The last duel resisted him (4h 20m) and he showed that, right now, he is far from his best level. Improved, but far from the great Nadal.

Meanwhile, Djokovic has made a journey in the opposite direction in this 2022. It began with the grotesque Australian episode – arrest and deportation for refusing to be vaccinated against covid – and continued with more and more clouds, too much time without competing – 80 days between his last game of 2021 and the reappearance in Dubai – and a process that has become a purgatory; painful and inappropriate defeats ―against the 123rd in the world in the emirate and losing in the first round of Montecarlo, against Alejandro Davidovich― and also doubts, many doubts. “But I’m going in the right direction,” he warned.

Nadal celebrates Sunday's win against Aliassime.
Nadal celebrates Sunday’s win against Aliassime.JULIEN DE ROSA (AFP)

And he began to straighten the course in Belgrade and Madrid, and he definitively redeemed himself in Rome, where he won the title and launched another notice: “I trusted in the process, everything I was looking for I have achieved”. Under that warning he planted himself in the Bois de Boulogne, firm and authoritative on the way to the reunion with Nadal; He has not given up a set, he has dispatched his rivals without any confusion (Nishioka, Molcan, Bedene and Schwartzman) and has spent two and a half hours less on the court than the Spaniard in the four previous rounds: 8h 13m, compared to 10h 43m from the Majorcan.

“I have no close reference against him; I think the last time we played was last year here. I haven’t played this type of match in the last three months, so it’s a big challenge for me. The [Djokovic] he has won the last nine games in a row and will probably be confident. I know what my situation is and I accept it, ”explains Nadal. “I like how I feel, the way I’m hitting the ball. I think I’m ready”, anticipates Nole, 35, while the historic Mats Wilander, now a commentator for Eurosport, summarizes his present: “It’s incredible how he’s gotten back in shape so quickly. He looks very strong and he is determined”.

The 2020 final: cold, ceiling, artificial light

From the start, the number one seems to start with one or two inches of advantage over Nadal, at random all spring. He could not play in Montecarlo or Barcelona, ​​and arrived in Madrid under minimum conditions. In any case, he does not lose hope and rushes to the last of his cartridges to maintain the leadership ―21 grand, to the 20 of the Serbian and Roger Federer― and achieve his 14th title in the Bois de Boulogne. “I’m ready to run and to believe,” he advances. At the moment, and it is not little, his left foot holds and he also clings to the spell of Paris and Chatrier: there are 109 triumphs and the great story behind him.

Last year, Djokovic ended up shaking him in the semifinals and, furthermore, the Balkan dominates in the individual face-to-face (30-28); however, the Balearic can seek inspiration in other figures, such as those who say that he rules on clay (19-8), also in the great French (7-2) and also in the territory of the greats (9-7 ). There is also a minor detail out there. In 2020, both were measured in the final of the tournament under the theoretically most adverse circumstances for him; it was October, it was cold, the rain came and the roof was closed; autumn evening, artificial light, format indoors. And, against all logic, or not, Nadal was crowned again.

You can follow EL PAÍS Sports in Facebook Y Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.