Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Nadal beats Djokovic in late-night epic to reach French Open semifinals

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Old rivals spend more than four hours on the pitch, finishing at 1:15 in Paris as the Spaniard struggles for another famous win with an injury

Nadal rampaged through the early stages of the game, winning nine of the first 11 games before Djokovic began to find his way, leveling the game in a 6-4 second set that lasted a staggering 87 minutes.

ROLAND GARROS – Rafael Nadal overcame injury, the conditions and a stubborn Novak Djokovic to claim his spot in the French Open semifinals with a 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-6(4) win.

In their 59th meeting, Nadal and Djokovic appeared to have reached a stalemate as the former won the third set and the latter served at 5-3 for the fourth set, only for the Spaniard to save on set points, breaking serve with a typical forehand and one Force tie break.

A 13-time champion at Roland Garros, he showed some nerve trying to finish the match but sealed it in four hours and 12 minutes when he asked to face Alex Zverev in the semifinals for the fourth time.

“I think he was a better player in important moments,” Djokovic said.

“I gained momentum coming back in the second set, managed to win the second set and I was like, ‘I’m back in the game.’

“But then at the beginning of the third he had two or three fantastic games. He was able to take his tennis to another level just in those moments, especially in the moments at the beginning of all sets except the fourth.”

Djokovic added: “Once again he showed why he is a great champion. You know, stay there, be mentally strong and finish the game the way he did. Congratulations to him and his team. Without a doubt he deserves it.”

After his five-set win over Felix Auger-Aliassime, Nadal admitted that he hadn’t played his best tennis against the Canadian, especially in the opening set, but you couldn’t say that about his first hour of play against Djokovic.

His forehand fired, with 10 of his 12 first set winners coming down that wing, while Djokovic struggled to find rhythm on serve; His first serve percentage of just 48 included missing his mark at each of the first four break points he faced.

The world no. 1 finally started to be in fine form after recovering from a 3-0 deficit in set number two with three breaks of serve in the set, including a titanic struggle at 3-2, a game that ended 15th in the game Minutes lasted a total of seven deuces and five break point chances.

The next two sets followed a similar pattern but when Djokovic came to serve for the fourth set he was found wanting and Nadal found his best again, with the forehand once again coming to the rescue.

“Always playing against him is an incredible challenge,” said Nadal.

“The whole story we have together. Today was one again and to win against Novak there is only one way to do your best from the first point to the last.”

The last one fell at quarter past one in the morning and although most people stayed until the bitter end as temperatures dropped into the single digits, both players criticized the TV-centric decisions to start the night sessions at 8.45pm local time.

“It is without a doubt [too late]’ added Nadal. “Of course I understand the other part of the business, no doubt that TV pays a lot of money to have games this late, then the tournament makes money and then the players make money.

“We have to find a balance, the right balance, to make things as good as possible. It’s true that a best-of-five can be very long to start the game here at 9pm on clay. Such things can happen. But that’s it.”

Playing the match in the evening’s severe, cooler conditions was seen as a boon for Djokovic, while Nadal also downplayed his chances of winning as he couldn’t be sure of playing at Roland Garros due to the foot injury.

“Tonight was one of those magical nights for me. Unexpected level but I’m super happy so thank you very much,” he said on the pitch.

It was actually unexpected, if not for his opponent Djokovic.

“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “It’s not the first time that he’s physically 100 percent fit a few days after his injury and can barely walk.

“He’s done that many times in his career, so I’m not surprised.”

Follow i sport on Facebook for more tennis news, interviews and features, or listen Love Tennis Podcast presented by I‘s James Gray on iTunes, Spotify or just search “Love Tennis” wherever you get your podcasts

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