Novak Djokovic handed 13-time champion Rafael Nadal only his third defeat in 16 years and 108 matches at the vinaigrette Open on Friday to succeed in his sixth Roland Garros last in an epic showdown which even whip the country’s Covid-19 curfew. In their 58th career conflict, Djokovic triumphed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 and stays heading in the right direction to capture a 19th major and change into the first man in over 50 years to win all four Slams twice. Djokovic, the 2016 champion in Paris who had also beaten Nadal at the 2015 tournament, will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s last in what is going to be his 29th championship match at the Slams.
Tsitsipas had earlier change into the first Greek to succeed in a Grand Slam last with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Germany’s Alexander Zverev.
Nadal, 35, who would have been the oldest finalist at the vinaigrette Open in the contemporary era, remains tied on 20 majors with Roger Federer.
“It used to be a privilege to face Rafa in such an implausible match,” said Djokovic after four hours and 11 minutes of intense action.
“Tonight it used to be my greatest ever match in Paris.”
It used to be his second win in eight meetings in Paris with Nadal, a sequence which also included three losses in finals.
It used to be Nadal’s first defeat in 14 semi-finals in the vinaigrette capital.
“Probably it used to be not my best day today, despite the fact that I fought,” said Nadal.
“Every now and then you win, every now and then you lose. I had a big chance. There were some loopy points but there used to be fatigue there.”
Djokovic finished with 50 winners; Nadal dedicated 55 unforced errors under the relentless assault.
Djokovic had two break points in the opening game of the first set which stretched to 10 minutes but used to be unable to transform.
Nadal made him pay, sprinting absent for a 5-0 lead before the top seed got on the board.
Djokovic clung on, retrieving one break to receive to 2-5 but Nadal eventually prevailed after one hour on court despite the fact that he required seven set points to edge ahead.
As a signal of the tension of the occasion, Nadal complained to chair umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore that he needed more time to gather his towel.
Djokovic aired his bemusement at the amount of clay on the baselines.
The old rivals exchanged breaks in the second one and third games of a big-hitting second set but it used to be Djokovic who repeated the feat for a 4-2 lead before levelling the tie.
Twice in the third set Djokovic edged ahead, only to be reeled back in by Nadal who broke back in the 10th game as the world number one served for the set.
Djokovic then had to save a set point with an ice-cool drop shot in the 12th game.
“You can’t play better clay court tennis than this. It’s perfect,” tweeted Andy Murray.
A 92-minute third set ended with Djokovic taking the tiebreak.
In a further twist on a dramatic evening, the 5,000 spectators within Court Philippe Chatrier were allowed to watch the conclusion of the match despite it passing the 11pm Covid-19 curfew.
“In agreement with the national authorities, the match will come to an end in your presence,” said a stadium announcer told delighted fans.
Nadal then broke in the first game of the fourth set but Djokovic levelled for 2-2 and broke again for 4-2.
He finished it off on a second match point when Nadal hit wide and long.
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