Djokovic didn’t drop a set in four matches heading into the quarter-finals but he was pushed the most by 24-year-old Alex Molcan, who added Marian Vajda to his team earlier this month. He needed a tiebreak to close out his 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over Molcan in the second round.
Nadal, on the other hand, needed over four hours and 20 minutes to pass his toughest test of the tournament in the previous round against Felix Auger-Aliassime, who hired Toni Nadal last year.
After his gruelling 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over the 21-year-old Canadian, Nadal had racked up 10 hours and 43 minutes on court at Roland-Garros – exactly two hours and 30 minutes more than Djokovic.
Of all the mind-boggling numbers littering the stats sheets in the build-up to this clash, one particular stat stood out: the winner of the opening set has won 50 of their previous 58 matches.
One notable exception: last year’s classic semi-final, their most recent meeting.
That made the opening exchanges tonight all the more crucial. By the second point of the match, the pair had set the tone with a lengthy rally, before Nadal broke Djokovic off a missed netcord to take the early lead. It took Nadal 35 minutes just to make it 4-1 with a crushing forehand for another break of serve.
Nadal wrapped up the crucial first set in style, but the battle was just getting started. The Spaniard broke to start the second set again, and it took him a brutal 13-minutes to convert his seventh break chance – an ominous sign as the world No.1 began to impose his own game.