Novak Djokovic ended Rafael Nadal’s reign at the French Open by winning twice in the semi-final to be counted among the biggest games in Roland Garros.
Serbian top seed Djokovic won 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 against Nadal, a champion four years ago.
Nadal, looking for a 14-year record-breaking title. Instead, he has lost Roland Garros for just the third time in 108 games.
Djokovic, 34, now has to recover and play Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Greek has reached upto his first Grand Slam final. By beating Germany’s sixth seed Alexander Zverev in a five-set epic.
The fifth seed Tsitsipas must have watched, like the rest of the tennis world. The two greats worked fighting a vicious battle for the right to face him on the show.
“It was one of those special games that you can always remember about it. It was one of the top three games in my life,” Djokovic said.
The high-profile game was full of drama and skepticism, twisting and turning. Moreover, it was being played in front of 5,000 fans.
The fans were allowed to stay over the French time limit at 11 pm due to its coronavirus restrictions.
That decision came after a remarkable third set of 98 minutes. That saw Djokovic hold his courage to win a break on which the whole game seemed to depend.
Spaniard Nadal, 35, took a break and served the first game of the fourth set and led 2-0.
But he could not cope with Djokovic’s high level. And as he quickly won the next six games. Then, finally, to wrap up the victory after more than 4 hours on the court.
Djokovic looked broken as he raised his arms in celebration. Then he got tired and just smiled as he prepared for the court hearing given by the winner.
“To win against Rafa in this stadium, you have to play your best tennis. And tonight, I have played my best tennis games,” said Djokovic.
He can now win his 19th Grand Slam title to remove one behind Nadal and Federer’s record.
“It’s hard to find words to wrap up how I feel. You tell yourself there is no pressure. Pressure is a right to test my game. And my character in games like this.”
Djokovic’s victory increased his head-to-head win against Nadal. Nadal earned his 30th victory in their 58th men’s conference.
Djokovic keeps calm as he recovers from a slow start.
Beating Nadal in the mud of Roland Garros is widely regarded as one of the most challenging tasks in the sport. But if anyone had achieved that this year it would have sounded like Djokovic was the man to do it.
The world’s first number has been clean and accurate in every tournament. It was going well and playing aggressively on its way to the last four.
Nadal struck Djokovic when they met Chatrier in last year’s final. And, after seeing two break points in the nine-minute opening game.
He was again able to find that the scoreboard was moving fast for him.
Unable to find his rhythm or be touched by the quick drop-shots, Djokovic fell behind 5-0 in a rare start that few had expected.
Djokovic saved the bagel by grabbing it, sitting down to get one break back but couldn’t catch another.
The third seed Nadal served for the second time in question. He was taking his seventh point for an exciting first break that lasted about an hour.
Exchange violence continued in a second set of equally disturbing.
Djokovic could not cover the first half 2-0. But also made it to the sixth game with a mammoth hold where he saved three points from the back.
The pressure was felt when Djokovic tried to pull out a set. Producing a double error to give another point back to Nadal.
Serb was freed from the ball when Nadal hit a long comeback. And saved one on the way to regaining individual unity.
Holding the third set turns the game into ‘one of the best.’
Then came the third set described by former professionals. Professional journalists and participating fans as some of the greatest ever seen.
In the electric bout at Chatrier, Djokovic broke down 3-2. And began to be under pressure from Nadal.
The Serb saved the second point of the break following a 23-man conference. And then beat the crowd for their support.
However, he could not deny Nadal for the third time. Djokovic looked stunned as the left-hander hit the winner in the line-up at half-time.
That left the score at 6-3 6-3 3-3, with both men scoring 84 points each. After more than two and a half hours in court.
The use of force in Djokovic’s administration was also costly for Nadal, however.
The 13-time champion surprisingly lost his next service. And although he made himself a resting place in the next game. He was unable to turn the fourth break in a row.
The situation was tense on the court and the trains, with fans constantly jumping on foot. Due to stopping ovations and singing the names of both players.
After Djokovic failed to pull off the set 5-4 and broke down. Nadal saved another two-point break in the next game by leading 6-5.
At various points, both of these players put pressure on the explosive ceremonies.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Annabel Croft, the first British number one. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The already dynamic situation rose to another level in transition. Fans chanted loudly at the sound of Davis Cup-style. As they tasted every minute as it approached 11 pm.
Djokovic maintained the point set by pulling out the nerve to force a tie-break.
But Nadal started the player with a double error. And then inexplicably hit a long volley 4-4.
That moved the action to Djokovic, who lowered his ace. And chased the shot with two workings for the set.
“I had had a great chance at a 6-5 point. Where he will work for the second time. That’s all. Anything can happen at that moment,” said Nadal. He had won all 13 of their French Open semi-finals.
“Then I made two mistakes and missed a simple volley during the break.
“These kinds of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win. You can’t make these mistakes.”
‘We both wanted fans to stay.’
After the first semi-final match between Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, it lasted for more than three and a half hours. There was always the risk that the second match would exceed the 11 pm deadline.
Djokovic and Nadal started playing until 7.10 pm local time. And, after two opening sets, each took an hour. After that, they expected the game to be stopped. So the crowd could be brought home.
When Djokovic got his impressive third set in 93 minutes. It seemed logical to clear the pitch. Then came another twist.
Boos first greeted the stadium announcement. Until fans realized we were telling them. They were allowed to stay. And the jeers turned to cheers.
“If we look at what we were living for in the game before the announcement. I think we both wanted the crowd to stay,” Djokovic said.
“We were both very supportive. This is the kind of game we continue to play tennis for.”