7 time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal won the battle of the giants as he beat world no.1 Novak Djokovic in today’s semi-final clash at the French Open. The Spaniard prevailed in a five set marathon 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3) 9-7 after an unbelievable 4 hours and 37 minutes.
Rafa, who returned to tennis early this year after several months of break due to a knee injury, will get a chance to bag the 8th title here in Paris, something that no other male player has managed to achieve in their career at a single Grand Slam.
With the temperature in the high twenties and a bit of a breeze, both players entered the Philippe Chartier court to a very warm welcome from the crowd.
Djokovic started the first set on a high note, showing off his crushing ground strokes from the very beginning. However, it was Nadal who drew blood first and after breaking the Serb in the 7th game, he never looked back, wrapping up the set with a hold to 15 when serving for it.
The Spaniard proved to be the more dominant player out there at the start of the second set and his aggresive play did the damage in the 5th game when taking Nole’s serve for the second time in the match. Despite Djokovic looking down and out, he managed to quickly regroup and not only did he break back in the very next game, but he stamped his authority in game 8 with some big forehand winners. As he held serve to consolidate the second break of the set, the French crowd suddenly came alive and we had a match on our hands.
Something strange happened at the start of set three: the world no.1 seemed to be battling with some kind of injury as his movement got a lot worse and he was going for the big shots, missing the majority of them. After the Spaniard going a double break up, the set was practically over.
The fourth set saw a revival of Djokovic. Although it was Rafa who once more found himself a break up at 4-3 and then again at 6-5, he wasn’t able to consolidate. Especially when Nadal serving for the match, the Djoker produced some breathtaking tennis that kept his hopes for the final alive. The Serb then continued in his incredible shot making throughout the breaker, taking it 7-3 and forcing a decider.
This was only the second five set match between these two players, despite it being their 35th encounter. Djokovic, who still needed to win the Roland Garros title to complete his collection of the Grand Slam trophies, managed to carry the momentum into the decider as he took Rafa’s serve in the opening game. One of the key moments came in the 6th game that saw the Serb losing the point after he touched the net after an easy smash put away. You have to give full credit to Nadal, who was fighting for every point like there was no tomorrow. With 4-4 on the scoreboard, the audience got louder and louder, enjoying every single moment of this truly spectacular showdown. Both players were holding serve with some confidence until the 16th game, when Nadal pounced to break Djoko to love, reaching the Paris final for the 8th time in his career.
Nadal holds an unbelievable 59-1 win-loss record here at the French Open and he will try to improve it when meeting countryman Ferrer in Sunday’s final.
Ferrer overpowered Frenchman Tsonga in today’s other semi, winning in straight sets 6-1 7-6 (3) 6-2.