PARIS – On the sun-burned clay courts of Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic did something on Friday that only he and another man, Robin Soderling, had ever done before: he beat Rafael Nadal.
He’s also done something that no one has ever done before: He wore down the King of Clay.
The 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 victory of the number 1 in the world in front of 5,000 spectators who were allowed to stay after 11 p.m. Curfew thanks to a government intervention brought him to the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek who ousted Alexander Zverev in five sets to reach his first Grand Slam final.
Djokovic-Nadal, part 58, was as good as any of the previous 57 meetings, with the third set alone being a masterclass in clay court tennis – brutal hitting, incredible space coverage, courage under pressure and calm even in the toughest of circumstances.
After 3 hours, 28 minutes and after the previously tireless Nadal showed the first signs of cramps at the end, Djokovic was strong and only gave the Spaniard his third defeat in 108 games at Roland Garros.
“For me it is definitely the best match I have ever played in Roland Garros,” said Djokovic. “And the three best games I have played in my entire career, considering the quality of tennis, played my greatest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force for the past 15 years, and the atmosphere “that was completely electric. A lot of support for both players. Just unbelievable.
“I was very happy that there was no curfew at 11:00. I heard there was a special regulation so they allowed the crowd to stay. Just one of those nights and games that you will remember forever. “
While the match between Tsitsipas and Zverev lasted 3 hours, 37 minutes, Tsitsipas lost a two-set lead before winning 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 – the match between Djokovic and Nadal started in the early evening when temperatures soon dropped from their 29 degrees Celsius (84 Fahrenheit).
And although Nadal started well, saved breakpoints in the opening game and raced to 5-0 lead, it was already clear then that the Spaniard’s shots weren’t quite as high as a few hours earlier.
As the game progressed, Djokovic was able to start dictating from the baseline, catching the ball early and moving Nadal from side to side, interfering with drop shots. Djokovic grabbed the early break in the second set only to be pushed back, but since then he’s back in the game. With his forehand cross-court on the corner, he began to pull Nadal out of the field and test his agility and speed to the limit. With Nadal starting to miss, Djokovic had the advantage of leveling the game.
It was only Nadal’s stunning defense – and then his ability to turn defense into attack with his forehand – that prevented Djokovic from retreating faster than him. After Djokovic had equalized everyone in one set, Djokovic led 5: 3 in the third, but was beaten back again. Nadal had bet 6-5, only for Djokovic to save it with a drop shot. At the time, the standard of tennis was on another planet, but when Djokovic won the tie-break 7-4 it was an uphill battle for Nadal.
As the match continued, Nadal’s grimace broadened, his struggles and tiredness more evident. The Spaniard broke in the fourth set to 2-1, but Djokovic held the serve loosely, broke back and was then almost inviolable on serve. In the fourth set (including the lost game) he lost only eight points on serve. Nadal had nothing left, in the final phase he almost cramped when his body almost gave way. Djokovic somehow looked almost fresh in the end.
The second win against Nadal on clay in Paris gives Djokovic a chance at his 19th Grand Slam title, but the Serb praised everything Nadal achieved in Paris.
“It’s hard to find words bigger than all the superlatives you can imagine for Rafa’s performance at Roland Garros,” he said. “He was the most dominant player in the history of Roland Garros. He has lost three times in his entire career. He has played here for almost 20 years. This achievement speaks for itself. The number of wins he has on this court is.” Every time you step on the court with him you know you have to climb Mount Everest to win against this guy here.
“It’s just one of those games that I’ll really remember for a long time, not just because I won the game, but also because of the atmosphere and just the occasion was very special.”
Nadal said Djokovic was the better player and tried to put things into perspective when speaking to the Spanish media.
“My chances of winning here aren’t forever,” he said. “In our sport you have to admit both victory and defeat. I know that I can’t win the tournament 15, 18, 20 times. It’s not a catastrophe at all. I’m sad, I lost the most important tournament.” of the year for me. But it’s just a loss on a tennis court, you know, and I’ll be home with my family tomorrow.
Now Djokovic has to recover in time to face a hungry Tsitsipas, who reached his first Grand Slam final with a hard-earned win against Zverev.
The Greek dominated the first two sentences when Zverev, the runner-up at the US Open last year, came out flat, seemingly nervous.
“I can’t lose two sets against a top player like Stefanos to win every time,” he said. “The most important thing about this match are the first two sets. I played better in those.”
However, the German hit back well to equalize with two sets each and had Tsitsipas in the opening game of the decision 0:40. This proved to be the key game when Tsitsipas held and then regained his supremacy to run away with the set.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It was a difficult game. It was a game full of emotions, full of so many different phases that I went through. In the end it was just such a relief that I was able to finish it so well.”
“I was able to deliver and finish the game when I had to. I’m proud of myself. I really love what I do. I love playing in this stadium. I’m grateful for every single game.” that I can play. I’m of course just blessed to have the opportunity to play against the best and test myself, something I’ve always dreamed of and wished for one day. “
Tsitsipas has his wish, but Djokovic stands in his way.