The 2021 French Open presented something never before seen in modern men's tennis: The Big 3 of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer all in the same half of the draw at a Grand Slam event. That meant tennis fans would be denied seeing two of those legends face off in the final. While Federer withdrew Sunday for health reasons, Djokovic and Nadal face off in the semifinals Friday morning Eastern time from Paris with Nadal at -275 on the William Hill Sportsbook tennis odds and Djokovic at +210. Click here for SportsLine's expert pick on the match.
It's quite possible this is the last time this season that Djokovic, who has held the world No. 1 ranking longer than any player in history, is a betting underdog in a match. Clay is clearly Djokovic's least favorite surface (ditto Federer) and his lone French title came in 2016. Djokovic lost in straight sets in the 2020 final to Nadal. The favored set result for this match is Nadal in three at +150. The Over/Under for total games is 36.5, and Djokovic is +5.5 on the games handicap.
This will be the 40th all-time Grand Slam semifinal for Djokovic, which is second-most all-time behind Federer's 45. The Serb was pushed to five sets in the fourth round and four by ninth-seeded Matteo Berrettini in the quarters.
The Spaniard Nadal is the unquestioned king of clay and has won this tournament an astonishing 13 times, by far the most wins in one Slam event by any male player. He has just two career losses in Paris. Nadal's four-set quarterfinal win over No. 10 Diego Schwartzman was his 35th consecutive match victory at Roland Garros.
However, Nadal's streak of 36 consecutive sets won at the French, which began with the third set of the 2019 final, was snapped when he lost the second set to Schwartzman. That sets won streak is the third-longest streak by any man at a single major in the Open Era. The record is 41 in a row by Bjorn Borg at the French Open from 1979-81. Nadal also had a 38-set streak at the French from 2016-18 that was ironically snapped also by Schwartzman in the '18 quarterfinals.
This will be the 58th all-time meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, with Djokovic leading 29-28 but 7-19 on clay. They met on that surface in the final of a Rome warm-up last month and Nadal won 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 (some non-major tournaments are best-of-3 sets for men instead of 5). That's their lone meeting on any surface since the 2020 French final.
The last Djokovic win on clay vs. Nadal was in 2016 in Rome. Nadal is 7-1 vs. Djokovic at the French Open, with Nadal's loss in the 2015 quarterfinals. Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka won the tournament that year (beating Djokovic in the final), the only time since 2005 that one of Nadal, Djokovic or Federer didn't win the French.
Djokovic-Nadal is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. ET on Friday, but it could depend how long the other semifinal between No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 6 Alexander Zverev lasts (8:50 a.m. ET start). Tsitsipas is -250 and Zverev +190. The winner – neither player has won a Slam -- will be an underdog in the final.
Looking for the best picks against the spread, sharp action on the total and props you can take to the window? Join Jonathan Coachman on the Early Edge as he speaks with SportsLine's top handicappers to preview every day's biggest games. We promise to keep it short, sweet and to put some green in your pocket. Early Edge is under 10 minutes and in your feed every single day by 11 AM ET. Download right here or wherever you get your podcasts.