Tennis great John McEnroe feels picking a winner between Novak Djokovic and 13-time French Open champion Rafa Nadal is like a coin toss but he gives Serbia’s world number one a slight edge in Tuesday’s highly-anticipated quarterfinal.
Spaniard Nadal had won the French Open four years in a row before losing to eventual champion Djokovic in the semi-finals last year – just the third time he had been beaten at the claycourt major since his debut in 2005.
That was also the last of the 58 career showdowns between the pair and Djokovic has looked in peak form at this year’s tournament, having not dropped a set in his four rounds.
“Before the tournament when I picked, who do you pick? Slight edge to Novak I’d said,” McEnroe told Reuters on Monday.
“Rafa has won this 13 times, I wasn’t sure about his health. He was hurt, seems like he’s okay. But it could obviously go either way and Rafa historically has been much better here.
“Slight edge to Novak but if Rafa won I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”
Djokovic, who was forced to miss the Australian Open due to his unvaccinated status against COVID-19 and his subsequent deportation from Melbourne amid a media frenzy, is desperate to win in Paris and pull level with Nadal’s major haul of 21.
They arrived in Paris with contrasting build-ups to the claycourt major.
While Djokovic looked in top form during his Rome triumph, Nadal was troubled by a chronic foot problem and lost in the Madrid quarter-finals before a third-round exit in Rome.
Nadal has complained about the night session on Parisian clay due to the cold weather but that has not stopped organisers scheduling the mouth-watering clash under the lights on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Asked if that would give Djokovic an advantage, Eurosport tennis pundit McEnroe said: “I think so.
“But I thought so two years ago (2020) when they played in October. I thought that it would be better for Novak because it was cold and the ball wasn’t going to bounce as high but then Rafa beat him easily.
“So, I mean, does it matter that Novak won (fourth round) in two hours and Rafa played four and a half hours? You would think so. But Rafa is showing he’s almost like Superman sometimes. Especially here.
“I don’t have a coin, but it’s sort of like flip a coin to see who wins that.”
The winner between Djokovic and Nadal will meet either 19-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who has wowed everyone with his 14-match winning run, or German third seed Alexander Zverev.
McEnroe, who won seven majors and reached the 1984 final at Roland Garros, said Alcaraz is “incredible”.
“I mean, everyone loves him. I love him and he just brings like a fresh energy,” the 63-year-old said during the interview. “He fights and he’s just got this youthful, like, bouncing (energy). He’s got a big game.
“He moves maybe better than almost anyone I’ve ever seen. He may move better than Nadal and Djokovic right now. He may move better than anyone on the tour right now. That’s quite amazing. That’ll help win you some matches.”