Novak Djokovic calls facing Rafael Nadal 'the ultimate challenge on clay,' plus other Rome quotes

Ricky Dimon in ATP 19 May 2018
  • Novak Djokovic calls facing Rafael Nadal "the ultimate challenge on clay"
  • Nadal says he would rather go up against an easier opponent than Djokovic
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Novak Djokovic speaks to the media during a press conference. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal reflected on their quarterfinal victories at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia and looked ahead to Saturday's showdown at the Foro Italico

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"Tomorrow is going to be the ultimate challenge on clay," Djokovic assured, shortly after overcoming Nishikori 2-6, 6-1, 6-3. "You know, beating Rafa is a really difficult thing to do on this surface. But, I've done it before. Obviously, I'm a different player today than I was in the time I was winning against him on clay, but I believe in myself. I will go out on the court trying to win. I mean, that's for sure. I know he's in great form. But, look, anything is possible. I've been playing some good tennis--really good tennis this week, especially the last couple matches."

Nadal had similar praise for one of his chief rivals after the Spaniard also battled back from a set down in his 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Fabio Fognini earlier in the day. He was asked if he misses playing against Djokovic, as their most recent encounter came more than a year ago at the 2017 Madrid Masters.

"Being honest, it's better to not play him," Nadal admitted. "He's one of the best players of history, no doubt about it. No. I am not this kind of stupid guys that says, 'No, I want to play (against him).' No, no.

"When I have to play (against him), I play and [I'm going to] try my best to win as I did all my career. But, of course, you prefer easier opponents than a great player like Novak."

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Supporters of Rafael Nadal cheer on Friday in Rome. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO/ AFP/Getty)
At the same time, though, Nadal relishes the opportunity in what will be career meeting No. 51 against Djokovic--with the Serb leading the head-to-head series 26-24.

"Of course, on the other hand, when you play some matches like I played against him in our career, you are happy to be part of that kind of matches and you appreciate it a lot," Rome's No. 2 seed added. "Tomorrow is another opportunity to play another good match against a great opponent, and I need to be ready to play my best. And I believe that I can do it. And I hope to do it."

The belief is there for both players, albeit for different reasons. 

Nadal has been a consistent force on clay--as usual--since returning from a hip injury that he sustained at the Australian Open, with titles in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona.

"My clay-court season [has] been, I think, fantastic," the seven-time Rome champion noted. "Two victories, one quarterfinals (in Madrid), and now semifinals. I can't complain. Of course, it will be much better if I finish here with another title. And I (am) really gonna try. But I can't forget that I had five months without completing (a) tennis tournament. Since Shanghai until Monte-Carlo, I didn't complete one event. So the comeback [has] been great, no? That's the real thing. So I am happy with everything."

Djokovic's comeback has not been great, but he played perhaps his two best matches of 2018 in the last two days--against Albert Ramos-Vinolas and then Nishikori.

"[Against Nishikori], the quality of tennis was really high," the world No. 18 assessed. "I mean, Kei was playing fantastic, especially in the first set... and it took me little bit of time to adjust to his pace.... I'm really happy that I mentally stayed strong," reflected Djokovic. "In the ending of the third set I really fought and showed some resilience. This victory means a lot to me on different levels, mostly mental."

Now the time for talk is over. It's time to get it on. Nadal vs. Djokovic Chapter 51!


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Novak Djokovic calls facing Rafael Nadal "the ultimate challenge on clay," plus other Rome quotes

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal reflect on their quarterfinal victories at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia and look ahead to Saturday's showdown at the Foro Italico

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