Paris – Novak Djokovic compared Rafael Nadal’s defeat at the French Open to climbing Everest when he hailed Friday’s epic semi-final triumph over the 13-time champion as “one of my biggest wins”.
Djokovic sentenced Nadal to his third defeat in 16 years and 108 games at Roland Garros to reach his sixth final in Paris after a classic showdown that even broke the country’s COVID-19 curfew.
In their 58th career clash, Djokovic triumphed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 and remains on course to capture a 19th major and become the first man in over 50 years to win them. all four Twice the Grand Slam.
Djokovic, the 2016 Paris champion who also beat Nadal in the 2015 quarter-finals, will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final in what will be his 29th league game in a major.
Tsitsipas had become the first Greek to reach a Grand Slam final with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over German Alexander Zverev.
Reigning champion Nadal, 35, who would have been the oldest finalist at the French Open in the modern era, remains tied to 20 majors with Roger Federer.
“It was a privilege to face Rafa in such an incredible match,” said Djokovic after four hours and 11 minutes of intense action.
“Tonight was my biggest match ever in Paris.”
It was his second win in nine fights at Roland Garros with Nadal, a sequence that also included devastating losses in the 2012, 2014 and 2020 finals.
“Definitely one of the first three games I’ve ever played in my entire career,” said Djokovic.
“Considering the quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has been so successful and has been the dominant force for the past 15 years and more, and the atmosphere that was all electric. Simply amazing. “
It was Nadal’s first defeat in 14 semi-finals at Roland Garros.
“It probably wasn’t my best day today, even though I fought,” said Nadal.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I had a great chance. There were some crazy points but there was fatigue “.
Djokovic finished with 50 winners; Nadal made 55 unforced errors under a relentless onslaught.
“It’s hard to find words bigger than all the superlatives you can think of for Rafa’s successes at Roland Garros,” added 34-year-old Djokovic, who now leads their 30-28 head-to-head series.
“Every time you take the field with him, you know you have to climb Everest to win against this guy here.”
Nadal complained of humid conditions which became heavier and slower as the evening progressed.
“We were playing with very hot and high rebounds. Overnight the situation goes a bit the other way around, “he said.
“So the rebound is a little less. The ball gets less top-spin. This is more favorable for him. “
Djokovic had two break points in the opening round of the first set, which lasted 10 minutes, but was unable to convert.
Nadal made him pay for it, flying off to a 5-0 lead before the top seeded the scoreboard.
Djokovic held out, recovering a break to reach 2-5, but Nadal ultimately prevailed after an hour on the pitch even though he needed seven set points to take the lead.
As a sign of the tension of the occasion, Nadal complained to chair referee Eva Asderaki-Moore that she needed more time to collect her towel.
Djokovic expressed his amazement at the amount of clay on the bottom lines.
The old rivals swapped breaks in the second and third games of a hugely successful second set, but it was Djokovic who repeated the feat for a 4-2 lead before drawing the match.
Twice in the third set Djokovic moved forward, only to be caught up by Nadal who went back in the tenth game as the number one in the world served for the set.
Djokovic then had to save a set point with a frozen drop shot in the 12th game.
“You can’t play better clay tennis than this. It’s perfect, “tweeted an admired Andy Murray, the former world number 1 who lost the 2016 final to Djokovic.
The third set of 92 minutes ended with Djokovic taking the tiebreak.
In a further twist on a dramatic evening, the 5,000 spectators inside Court Philippe Chatrier were able to witness the match ending despite passing the COVID-19 curfew at 11pm.
“In agreement with the national authorities, the match will end in your presence,” a stadium announcer told delighted fans.
Nadal broke in the first game of the fourth set but Djokovic drew 2-2 and broke again 4-2.
He finished with a second match point when Nadal hit far and wide.
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