Rafael Nadal's Keys to Victory Against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros

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Rafael Nadal's Keys to Victory Against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

This is the match the tennis world has been waiting for.

In what will be a rematch of the 2012 final at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal will take on Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of this year's edition of the tournament, but the circumstances are much different than they were a year ago.

Back then, Nadal was the undisputed king of the clay courts at the French Open, and the Spaniard rolled to a four-set victory over Djokovic en route to his seventh title at Roland Garros.

But a lot has changed, as injuries kept Nadal from playing competitively for nearly a year, and Djokovic captured his third consecutive Australian Open crown in January. 

That being said, there's a reason Nadal has won seven of the last eight men's singles titles at the French Open, and regardless of how much tennis he's played in the last 12 months, he'll be difficult to beat. 

Heading into the most highly anticipated match of the tournament, here's a look at what Nadal has to do to beat Djokovic for the fifth straight time at Roland Garros.

 

A Strong Start

In the most recent meeting between Nadal and the fiery Serbian star, Djokovic stormed out of the gates to take the first set at the final of the 2013 Monte Carlo Masters by a 6-2 margin.

For Nadal, the result was troubling because he'd previously held a 12-2 career advantage over Djokovic on clay, and for the first time in quite a while, the 11-time Grand Slam winner looked vulnerable on his favorite surface.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Though Nadal dropped the second set and the match, he rebounded during the second set at Monte Carlo, pushing Djokovic to a tiebreak.

Yes, Djokovic should be considered the favorite given how shaky Nadal has appeared at times during his run to the semifinals, but one cannot discount the reigning champion's dominance on this court, especially once he gets on a roll.

If Nadal can take the first set, the smart money should be on him to win the race to three.

 

Withstanding Djokovic's Backhand

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Djokovic's ability to return virtually every shot thrown his way has been key to his success throughout his career, but in the past, Nadal's bruising style has worn him down consistently in the majority of their meetings.

But thus far at Roland Garros, Djokovic's topspin backhand has terrorized his opponents and has played a large role in enabling him to jump out to early leads, so Nadal will have to proceed with caution if his strategy is to attack his opponent's backhand.

 

Remaining Unpredictable

As one of the smartest players on the tour, Djokovic has an uncanny ability to adapt his strategy to the game plans of his opponents as matches wear on.

In order to combat this, Nadal will have to diversify his shots, using both backhands down the line and topspin forehands to keep the Serbian challenger guessing, especially if the match goes to five sets.

Once Djokovic gets into a rhythm, he's difficult to beat, so Nadal has to do everything in his power to keep the six-time Grand Slam winner from gaining confidence.

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

 

Prediction: Nadal in four sets. The Spaniard has come a long way since losing to the Djoker at Monte Carlo, and he'll complete his inspiring comeback by sealing his fourth straight title at Roland Garros.

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