We have seen it in years past and seen it again this past fortnight — players walking on to Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris simply not believing they can beat Rafael Nadal.
That will not be the case when Novak Djokovic faces him in Friday's titanic French Open semi-final. Deep down the world No 1 thinks he has it in him to defeat the greatest clay courter, even here.
It is a repeat of the final we saw in last October’s displaced Roland Garros, but I will be very surprised if the outcome is the same comfortable win for Nadal.
Novak Djokovic should target Rafael Nadal's helicopter shot in the French Open semi-finalInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
In my view Rafa played as well last year as he has ever done at this event, and I do not think you could say that this time.
There have been a few vulnerabilities in his matches to this point.
Jannik Sinner served for the first set against him, Cam Norrie caused some problems early in their second set, and on Wednesday Diego Schwartzman matched him until late in the third set before completely subsiding.
All of them, understandably enough, will have felt intimidated by the aura he has created, but Djokovic is something different altogether.
I would not go as far as to make him favourite, because this is all relative.
It is a repeat of the final we saw in last October’s displaced Roland Garros but I will be surprised if it is another comfortable win for Nadal
Even when not at his peak on clay Nadal’s level is so high that he can afford to drop a bit and still be the best, but I do think Djokovic has a realistic chance.
If I was still coaching him I would be suggesting he goes hard at the Spaniard’s forehand, which has not been at its most consistent in the previous rounds.
Its ‘helicopter’ motion can produce unforced errors if he is pressed enough. Djokovic cannot afford to allow him time on it, so no half shots — Djokovic needs to go hard and flat and if he can do that then he can reap some rewards.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Yet the most important battleground in these contests between two players who have met an incredible 57 times already is in the head.
This being a semi-final and not the final, like it was when they met last month in Rome, does alter the dynamic a bit.
This time Nadal knows that the job is still not done if he wins and then shakes hands at the net.
Another factor is how well Djokovic has recovered physically from what was a gruelling match, physically and emotionally, against Matteo Berrettini late on Wednesday night.
If I was still coaching Djokovic I would be suggesting he goes hard at the Spaniard’s forehand
That, and Nadal’s history, steers me away from calling this as an upset in the making, but the outcome is unsure.
And in the great race for the most Grand Slam titles