PARIS – Sprint, gliding and stretching, expecting each other’s moves for four sets and more than four hours, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal produced a masterpiece in the French Open semifinals.
Djokovic stopped Nadal’s bid for a 14th French Open title and gave King of Clay just his third defeat in 108 matches in the tournament by returning to win a thriller in a semi-final 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 ( 4), 6-2 at Roland Garros Friday night.
In yet another show of huge tennis between rivals, the match lasted for 4 hours, 11 minutes. After going 0-2 in the fourth set, Djokovic rattled six consecutive games to avenge his loss to Nadal in last year’s final.
“Just one of those nights and matches that you will remember forever,”
“Absolutely the best match I’ve ever been a part of in Roland Garros, for me and (one of the top three matches I’ve ever played in my entire career – considering the quality of tennis and playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force for the last 15 years. And the atmosphere, which was completely electric. ”
The 34-year-old Djokovic will seek his second trophy in Roland Garros and a 19th major championship overall when he plays in Sunday’s final against fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is only 22.
It will be the 29th career Grand Slam final for Djokovic, and the first for Tsitsipas, who beat Alexander Zverev in five sets in a semi-final match earlier Friday.
Nadal had won the last four titles in Paris, part of his collection of 20 Slams, tied with Roger Federer most of a man in tennis history.
Nadal, a 14-hour winner of the French Open who turned 35 last week, fell to 105-3 in his career at Roland Garros. His first defeat came against Robin Soderling in 2009; the next against Djokovic in 2015.
“Every time you step on the field with him,” Djokovic said, “you know you kind of have to climb Mount Everest to win against this guy here.”
Nadal and Djokovic really created the violent crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier.
Halfway through the third set, Djokovic won a 23-stroke point with a winner in advance and windmilled his arms half a dozen times and got a standing ovation and sang about “No-vak! No-vak!” At the next point, Nadal produced a winner in advance and screamed, which got chants of “Ra-fa! Ra-fa! ” And a wave in the stands.
Nadal said the turning point came when Djokovic saved a set point while down 6-5 in the third.
“Anything could happen in that moment,” Nadal said. “I make a double mistake and then [miss on] a light ointment in tiebreak. … This kind of mistake can happen. But if you want to win, you can not make these mistakes. That is it. Well done to him. A good fight out there. I tried my best and today was not my day. “
The third set alone lasted 1 hour, 33 minutes, and a nationwide curfew at. 23 were in place due to COVID-19 approaching. Djokovic’s previous match had been delayed for more than 20 minutes while the crowd – limited to 5,000 people under coronavirus restrictions – was cleared out of the stadium, but a statement was released Friday telling everyone the government had agreed to let them stay until the end of the match.
Previous song in French of “We will not leave! We will not leave!” Was replaced by choir of the national anthem and thanks to President Emmanuel Macron.
Nadal recovered from the fallen third set tiebreaker to steal a break at the start of the fourth.
Neither would give up nor give in, but Djokovic broke back to 2-all and was on his way.
“Something clicked,” Djokovic said.
Nadal later noted that playing in the cooler night air meant balls bouncing lower, diminishing the effect of his left left hand’s heavy topspin.
“It’s more favorable to him, the conditions, ” Nadal said. By the way, it does not matter. It’s tennis. The player who gets used to the conditions better is the player who deserves to win. So without a doubt he deserved to win. ”
The intensity was palpable from the start of the evening and Nadal zoomed to a 5-0 lead on the way to winning the first set. It was reminiscent of last year’s final, which he won 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. It was only the fourth shutout lost by Djokovic in 341-career Grand Slam matches up to that point – and the first in a major final.
Nadal dropped to 259-7 in majors after winning the first set; according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Two of those seven losses have now been for Djokovic.
There would not be another Friday because Djokovic made two important tactical adjustments – moving much further back than usual to return and decide to focus on serving against Nadal’s backhand – and quickly made it clear that this would be a classic between two of the greatest ever on what they do.
They defended in ways rarely seen. Found the right mix of power and touch. Induced impossible at first glance winners that no one else would try, let alone successfully hire. Returned as well as all that combined to generate 38 breakpoints.
It was the 58th matchup between rivals, more than any other two men in the sport’s professional era. Djokovic now leads 30-28, but he tracks 10-7 in Slam meetings and 7-2 at the French Open.
Djokovic won the French Open in 2016 and was able to join Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only men to win each of the four Grand Slam tournaments twice.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.