PARIS: World number one Novak Djokovic and seven-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal go head-to-head for the 35th time on Friday, confronting either history or heartbreak.
Djokovic needs a French Open title to become only the eighth man to capture all four majors while a first victory on the Paris red clay would also put the Australian Open champion halfway to a calendar Grand Slam.
That feat has not been achieved since Rod Laver did it for the second time in 1969.
Nadal, meanwhile, is two matches away from becoming the first man to win the same Grand Slam title eight times.
The pair’s statistics in 2013 make formidable reading.
Nadal has won 41 matches and lost just two since his return to the tour in February from a seven-month injury lay-off. Djokovic has 33 wins against just four defeats.
There are colossal statistics coating every side of this semi-final — Nadal has won 57 times out of 58 in his French Open career while Djokovic will be appearing in a 12th successive Grand Slam semi-final.
Nadal leads their career rivalry 19-15, has a 12-3 edge on clay and has won all four of the pair’s meetings in Paris, including the final in 2012.
But Djokovic beat the Spaniard on clay in Monte Carlo in April ending Nadal’s eight-year dominance in the principality.
“I played him in Monte Carlo, on clay. I played a fantastic match, and I know what it takes to win against him. That’s what I’m going for. I’m going to win. That’s the mindset,” insisted Djokovic.
Nadal is desperate to play down the hype despite his sensational return to the tour which has seen him win six titles in eight finals.
“I didn’t have ambition to win Roland Garros; I didn’t have ambition to win Monte Carlo; I didn’t have ambition to win Indian Wells,” said Nadal.
“My only ambition is feel myself competitive another time, feel myself happy to play tennis another time, and try to play with no limitations. So that was my only ambition four months ago, three months ago.”
Friday’s encounter will also take Nadal and Djokovic into joint first place on the list of all-time rivalries — Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe met 35 times as did Connors and Ivan Lendl.
Friday’s other semi-final sees Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who put out Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, face David Ferrer as the Frenchman continues his campaign to become his country’s first home champion since Yannick Noah in 1983.
“Everybody’s expecting a lot from me since the beginning of this tournament — not only this tournament, but every day. So I’m used to it,” said Tsonga, the 28-year-old sixth seed.
Ferrer, the fourth seed, made the semi-finals last year but has yet to make the breakthrough to a major final.
Whoever wins that tie will have their work cut out in Sunday’s final.
Djokovic has a 10-5 career winning edge over both Tsonga and Ferrer while Nadal leads Ferrer 19-4 and Tsonga, 8-3.