Nadal is chasing his eighth Roland Garros title as part of a comeback which in some ways may not be complete without a Grand Slam title to his name.
Novak Djokovic is chasing the Roland Garros crown as his CV will not be complete—certainly when compared to his contemporaries—without the French Open title.
The performances against Rafael Nadal in the early rounds of this year's French Open have left little doubt that the French Open will be, not unusually, Nadal's best shot at a Grand Slam title.
His early results in the tournament suggested that flat-hitting, big-serving players on faster, more tasking surfaces like grass and hard courts will find it easier to penetrate Nadal's defensively weaker forehand side—and coupled with a serious lack of pace behind his serve, the story lends to Nadal being easily broken.
As we have come to expect, Nadal has expertly downplayed expectations regarding Roland Garros. Per internazionalibnlditalia.com, before the tournament, Nadal was a portrait of circumspection:
The draws are tough and if you are fifth then you can have tougher draws but being 7 months out of the competition and still being number 5 is a miracle and I had a very good chance to be number 10 and there are lots of chances to be worse and I accept the situation [....] if I am fourth or fifth or sixth it is no difference. The important thing is to be healthy and play well.
A day before the biggest match of his season, he is still acutely aware of where he could have been, according to BBC Sport, but he is cognisant of the advantages this gives him:
I am able to play with less pressure than before because I know from where I came here. From a very low situation, very low moments, so everything is positive for me.
On the other side, Novak Djokovic couldn't be any more different.
Atpworldtour.com reports Djokovic's words in speaking with media before his first round match. Djokovic took no prisoners in describing his aims and what was driving him:
I know that if I win this tournament it's going to be a part of history. I would be very honoured to be part of that small, small group of players that managed to win all four Grand Slams."
Such is Djokovic's obsession with winning this one Slam that has eluded him that he instigated a no-Nadal-questions policy. According to Rolandgarros.com, he refused to discuss his much touted potential semifinal match up with Nadal, for fear it might drive him to distraction
Even without the match won, you have to say that that was a smart move because while matches can only be won on the court, they can be lost outside it, especially in the press room.
As to winning the match, Djokovic knows, per BBC Sport, what he has going for him:
I know what it takes. I played him in Monte Carlo earlier this year and on clay. I played a fantastic match, and I know what it takes to win against him.
I know the game plan, and I'm going to be confident and step into the court with self belief. I know what it takes to beat him. I'm going to win - that's the mindset.
Not even the great Roger Federer had the temerity to speak so grandiosely of his ability to defeat Nadal, his great rival. And therein, perhaps, lies the unique selling point of the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry.
Where in the past Federer and Nadal were mutually keen to play leader and follower respectively, Djokovic and Nadal sees two men adamant to lead.
A leader will emerge no doubt—as will a man possibly set to be a shadow of his old self for some time to come.
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