Djokovic stopped Nadal’s bid for a 14th Roland Garros title and only inflicted on the King of Clay their third loss in 108 tournament games coming back to win a thriller of a 3-6 semi-final, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 at Roland-Garros on Friday night.
In another formidable display of tennis between the rivals, the match lasted 4 hours and 11 minutes. After falling 0-2 in the fourth set, Djokovic has played six straight games to avenge his loss to Nadal in last year’s final.
“Just one of those nights and games that you will remember forever,” said frontrunner Djokovic, who reached his sixth final in the clay court major to tie Bjorn Borg for No.2 in the event behind Nadal ( 13).
“Definitely the best match I’ve been to at Roland Garros, for me, and (one of) top three matches I’ve played in my entire career – considering the quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival in the field where he’s been so successful and has been the dominant force for the past 15+ years. And the atmosphere, which was completely electric. ”
Djokovic, 34, will be aiming for his second trophy at Roland Garros and a 19th major league overall when he plays Sunday’s final against the fifth seed. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is only 22 years old.
Nadal had won the last four titles in Paris, part of his collection of 20 Slams, tied with Roger Federer mostly by a man from the history of tennis.
Nadal, a 14-time Roland Garros winner who turned 35 last week, fell to 105-3 during his career at Roland Garros. His first loss came against Robin Soderling in 2009; the next against Djokovic in 2015.
“Every time you step on the pitch with him,” said Djokovic, “you know you kind of have to climb Mount Everest to win against this guy here.”
Nadal and Djokovic really pissed off the noisy crowd at Philippe Chatrier court.
Halfway through the third set, Djokovic won a 23-stroke point with a winning forehand and swirled his arms half a dozen times, earning a standing ovation and chants of “No-vak! No-vak. ! ” On the following point. , Nadal produced a winning forehand and shouted, causing chants of “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” And a wave in the stands.
Nadal said the turning point came when Djokovic saved a set point as he was down 6-5 in third.
“Anything can happen at that point,” Nadal said. “I double fault and then [miss on] an easy volley in the tie-break. … These kinds of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can’t make these mistakes. That’s it. Well done for him. A good fight there. I did my best and today was not my day. “
The third set alone lasted 1 hour 33 minutes and a national 11 p.m. curfew in place due to COVID-19 was approaching. Djokovic’s previous match had been delayed by more than 20 minutes as the audience – limited to 5,000 people with coronavirus restrictions – were evacuated from the stadium, but an announcement was made on Friday to let everyone know of the the government agreed to let them stay until the end of the match.
The earlier songs in French “We won’t leave! We will not be leaving!
Nadal recovered from the tiebreaker in the third set to steal a break early in the fourth.
Neither give up nor give in, but Djokovic came back to 2 and was on his way.
“Something clicked,” Djokovic said.
Nadal later noted that playing in the cooler night air meant the balls bounced lower, lessening the effect of the big lift from his left forehand.
“It’s more favorable for him, the conditions,” Nadal said. “By the way, that doesn’t matter. It’s tennis. The player who gets used to the conditions the best is the one who deserves to win. So without a doubt, he deserved to win.”
The intensity was palpable from the start of the night and Nadal took a 5-0 lead en route to win the opening set. It was reminiscent of last year’s final, which he won 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. It was just the fourth shutout Djokovic lost in 341 career Grand Slam appearances so far – and the first in a major final.
Nadal fell to 259-7 in majors after winning the first set; according to ESPN Stats & Information. Two of those seven losses were suffered by Djokovic.
There wouldn’t be another Friday, as Djokovic made two key tactical adjustments – stepping back much further than usual to return the serve and deciding to focus on the serve towards Nadal’s backhand – and quickly clarified that it would be a classic between two of the best ever at what they do.
They defended themselves in a way rarely seen. I found the right mix of power and feel. Brought up impossible winners at first glance that no one else would try, let alone successfully employ. Income as good as anyone, combining to generate 38 break points.
It was the 58th clash between the rivals, more than two other men in the professional age of the sport. Djokovic now leads 30-28, but is down 10-7 in the Slams and 7-2 at Roland Garros.
Djokovic won the French Open in 2016 and could 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.