PARIS – A fiery Novak Djokovic fended off a moving retaliation from Italy’s Matteo Berrettini to clinch a 6-3 6-2 6-7 (5) 7-5 win on Wednesday to set up a tantalizing semi-final showdown with the defense champion Rafa Nadal.
The 34-year-old screamed a series of frightening roars after scoring a victory that at one point felt like a formality but got heavier and heavier as Berrettini threw the kitchen sink at the Serbian who becomes only the second man to reach 40 Grand Slam semi-finals. final after Roger Federer.
It was a spectacular conclusion to a game that was watched by 5,000 fans until halfway through the fourth set when the COVID-19 curfew in Paris forced the crowd to leave.
Djokovic was leading 3-2 at the time and when the battle resumed he suffered a nasty fall, brushing his hand, but felt his luck when Berrettini served at 5-6.
The ninth seed from Italy saved some match points, the second with a dazzling forehand, after which Djokovic shouted angrily at his entourage and kicked a billboard in disgust.
He got the job done the third time by asking when Berrettini scored at the end of another high-octane base swap. Djokovic, his eyes bulging, then roared again towards his dressing room, the sound echoing around a short empty Philippe Chatrier.
It was a manic ending and showed exactly how much Djokovic wanted a second Roland Garros title, having won his first in 2016 to end his career in the Slam.
Since then, Nadal has been unbeatable on Parisian soil, extending his record to 13 titles and counting, the last one last October when he beat Djokovic in the final.
Djokovic said booking another clash with Nadal was not the reason for his extraordinary reaction in the end.
“This match had it all: falls, crowd, break,” he told reporters. “It was a lot of intensity. I just felt energized the whole time and missed a few chances to finish in three.
“It was just great, super stressful to be under constant pressure all the time… the reaction at the end was just me releasing that tension that was building up throughout the game.”
Seeded Djokovic freaked out Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti on Monday, losing the first two sets, before steaming to victory.
It was much easier, initially, against Berrettini as he took a 3-1 lead in the first set.
Berrettini was playing well, but he failed to convert a break point when he was down 4-2 and after that the game was one-sided as Djokovic served as a clinical masterclass.
But Berrettini sank his heels throughout the third set even though he failed to shape a breaking point.
As the crowd in the tournament’s first night session lined up behind the 25-year-old, Berrettini extended Djokovic in a tie-break, then ramped up the power, bombarding a few aces and venomous forehands.
Djokovic had the game on his racket at 5-4, however, but a few unusual mistakes gave Berrettini a set point which he converted with another heavy forehand.
Under tension, Berrettini looked more and more dangerous, but the drama was cut short when fans left – one of them staying put until he was forced out of his seat.
After a 25-minute delay, during which the players left the field, the matches were played with service although it was far from comfortable for Djokovic who flew face down after being caught against it. foot.
He dusted himself off and finished the job, but the 18-time Grand Slam champion knew he had been in an uphill battle and will need to find an even higher level when he locks the horns with Nadal for the 58th time in their compelling career rivalry Friday.
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