Best five matches played by big five at the French Open part one: Rafael Nadal against Novak Djokovic in 2008

French Open
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

James Spencer guides us through part one of five in his mini series of the best French Open clashes between the big five Grand Slam champions of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.

Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic: 2008 French Open semi-finals

This match was one of the first of their epic 54-part rivalry which the Serb narrowly leads 28-26. It also signposted a third consecutive encounter at Roland Garros between the pair having met in the semi-finals in 06 and the quarter-finals in 07 where Djokovic started brightly before eventually forfeiting with fatigue in the third set.

These were the days of baggy shirts more than a decade ago with Nadal in his then trademark ¾ “pirate pants” he sadly no longer wears. Although he and Nike have recently brought back his sleeveless look which is a nice retro look to the start of the Spaniard’s legendary career.

In terms of game style though, the main principles to which Nadal’s game is based off, powerful lasso forehands from the baseline and simply “moonballing” as John McEnroe likes to memorably describe it, has remained largely the same today.

While Djokovic still plays a similar brand of attacking tennis from the baseline and enjoys sliding, particularly on the clay and this match exhibited a fantastic early example of their epic duels.

In the opening set, the Serb played some sublime winners as he really went into this encounter believing he had the weapons to hurt the Spaniard. These were the days when Nadal had won three consecutive French Open titles and looked completely invincible on clay. The 17-time Grand Slam champion also didn’t suffer from the catalogue of injuries that have plagued him over the last few years.

It was Nadal though that took the opening set 7-5 as he weathered the storm sending down some pummelling forehands.

Djokovic’s level then dropped off significantly in the second set as Nadal motored away snatching it 6-2.

The Serbian put up a good fight with a sublime drop shot when 4-2 down in the third and broke back. Djokovic began to come to the net more and it paid off as he took the three-time French Open champion to a tie-break.

Nadal then blitzed his way through the breaker and staved off a mini revival from the Serb to seize it 7-3 to win 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) and he sunk to his knees after making yet another French Open final.

2008 was also a legendary year for the world of tennis as Nadal won his first Wimbledon title in the epic five-set match against Federer which has been dubbed as one of the best matches of all time. While Nadal continued his domination winning Olympic gold in Beijing.

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