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Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal remain on French Open collision course

Novak Djokovic (left) and Rafael Nadal are on course to meet in Paris (Andrew Medichini/Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
Novak Djokovic (left) and Rafael Nadal are on course to meet in Paris (Andrew Medichini/Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Defending champion Novak Djokovic and 13-time king of clay Rafael Nadal remain on course for a box-office French Open quarter-final after blowing away their third-round opponents.

Lying in wait for each other in the same quarter of the draw due to Nadal’s world ranking of fifth, the big two are due to collide unusually early at Roland Garros this year.

Djokovic, taking centre stage on Court Philippe-Chatrier, made short work of subdued Slovenian – and one-time representative of Great Britain  – Aljaz Bedene, winning 6-3 6-3 6-2.

At the same time, in one of his occasional appearances on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Nadal was dealing with Dutchman Botic Van De Zandschulp with relative ease, registering a 6-3 6-2 6-4 victory.

The illustrious duo are matching each other almost stride for stride as they pound their way through the tournament.

They have yet to drop a set and have lost just 23 games apiece so far. Nadal has lost his serve five times – including during a mild final-set hiccup against Van De Zandschulp, and Djokovic only twice.

France Tennis French Open
Zinedine Zidane watched Rafael Nadal’s victory (Christophe Ena/AP)

Both even had French football royalty watching them; former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was, perhaps predictably, in the red corner of Djokovic, while ex-Real Madrid star Zinedine Zidane took in Nadal’s match – a couple of tasty aperitifs ahead of Saturday’s main course of a Champions League final in Paris.

Djokovic said: “It’s an honour to have these legends of the football world coming to watch myself. And most of the tennis players, we are fans of football.

“Of course, we know them, we watch them, we watch the teams, nations, we watch all the competitions.

“So of course it is a great feeling when someone of their level of success and personality comes to watch us live. It gives you a bit more motivation, you know.

“I saw Arsene at the beginning of the match. It positively affected me. I had even more motivation to perform well.”

In the most prolific rivalry in men’s tennis, Djokovic has 30 wins to Nadal’s 28 ahead of the eagerly-anticipated 59th instalment.

Standing in the way are 15th-seeded Argentinian Diego Schwartzman, who will face Djokovic, and Nadal’s last-16 opponent Felix Auger-Aliassime, the ninth seed.

It is a draw which throws up an intriguing sub-plot as Nadal’s uncle Toni Nadal, who used to coach him, is currently Auger-Aliassime’s coach.

Tennis – 2015 AEGON Championship – Day One – The Queen’s Club
Rafael Nadal with uncle Toni Nadal (Andrew Matthews/PA)

But Nadal insisted there would be no family rift ahead of the match.

“I already talked with Toni after my match,” he said. “I know you are going to ask the question, but for me it’s very simple.

“He’s my uncle. I don’t think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt, but he’s a professional and he’s with another player.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, if he’s going to stay in the box or not, but I don’t care. I have zero problem with that. So it’s not a story at all for me. I know what’s the feelings that we have between each other.

“I know he wants the best for me. Now he’s helping another player. But honestly, for me, it’s zero problem and I know he wants the best for me.”

Canadian Auger-Aliassime expects his coach to step aside for this particular encounter.

“It was black and white from the first time we started working together we knew it was a possibility that eventually I would play Rafa when I’m working with Toni,” he said.

“But I think Toni will watch from a neutral place and enjoy the match.”