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Djokovic looks ahead to record 54th clash with Nadal in Rome final - 'He's my greatest rival of all time'

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 19 May 2019
  • Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal is live from Rome at 4.00pm local time on Sunday (3.00pm BST)
  • Djokovic leads their head-to-head 28-25 and has won nine of their last 11 encounters, but Nadal is up 16-7 on clay
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (PA Images)

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic will have to overcome the ‘ultimate challenge’ in order to win back-to-back Masters 1000 titles as he comes up against World No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the Rome final on Sunday.

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That’s how Djokovic described facing Nadal after advancing into his second straight Masters 1000 final with a three-set victory over Diego Schwartzman on Saturday night.

It’s not hard to see why Djokovic feels that way about his Spanish rival - the pair have played each other a record 54 times throughout their illustrious careers, with Djokovic leading their head-to-head 28-25 and winning nine of their last 11 encounters.

Novak Djokovic (PA Images)
However, Nadal has been dominant on clay, claiming 16 of their 23 matches on the surface, while the pair are locked at 2-2 in Rome finals.

"I've had so many matches against him. Up to date, we had the longest rivalry of tennis of all time. Every time we get to play each other, it's a thrill,” Djokovic told reporters following his 6-3 6-7(2) 6-3 win over Schwartzman.
"It's the ultimate challenge. He's one of the greatest champions this game has ever seen.”

Djokovic has fond memories of the last time he faced Nadal, capturing a record seventh Australian Open title in January as he crushed the Spaniard 6-3 6-2 6-3.

The World No. 1 has come out on top in nine of their last 11 contests dating back to 2014, but significantly, Nadal emerged triumphant in their last two clay clashes in Rome last year and Madrid in 2017.

Rafael Nadal (PA Images)
"His mentality, his approach, his resilience, ability to fight back after long absence from the tour, injuries, surgeries, he's had it all,” Djokovic continued.
"He keeps on showing to the world why he's one of the biggest legends of tennis history. I have greatest respect for him. He's my greatest rival of all time, for sure."

Nadal arrived in Rome without a title for the first time since 2004 and on the back of three straight semi-final exits in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

However, the eight-time Rome champion has returned to some of his most dominant form in the Italian city, advancing to the final without dropping a set, including avenging a Madrid loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis, prevailing 6-3 6-4.

Nadal was never worried with his semi-final defeats after coming back from a knee injury that forced him to withdraw ahead of the Indian Wells semi-finals in March.

"The feeling is that I am playing better every week, every day. That's important for me," he said.
"It's not a drama to lose in semi-finals. The main thing is recover my level.
"I've been through some tough moments after Indian Wells. Recovery of the knee again... was not easy to come back and to prepare myself the right way."

Djokovic vs Nadal is live from Rome at 4.00pm local time (3.00pm BST). Click here to read a full preview of their record-breaking 54th clash.


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Djokovic looks ahead to record 54th clash with Nadal in Rome final - "He's my greatest rival of all time"

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic will have to overcome the ‘ultimate challenge’ in order to win back-to-back Masters 1000 titles as he comes up against World No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the Rome final on Sunday.

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