Novak Djokovic ended Rafael Nadal’s reign at Roland Garros with a four-set victory in a classic semi-final that will be ranked among the all-time great matches on the clay court at Roland Garros.
Serbian seed Djokovic won 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 over Nadal, champion in each of the past four years.
Nadal, in search of a record 14th title, only lost at Roland Garros for the third time in 108 matches.
Djokovic, 34, must now recover to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.
The 22-year-old Greek reached his first Grand Slam final by beating Germany’s sixth seed Alexander Zverev in a five-set epic earlier on Friday.
The fifth-seeded Tsitsipas surely must have watched, like the rest of the tennis world, as two of the all-time greats fought a brutal battle for the right to face him in the centerpiece.
The high-quality match was full of drama and suspense, twists and turns, throughout the match in front of 5,000 fans, who were allowed to stay despite the 23:00 curfew in France as part of its restrictions on coronavirus.
The move came after a remarkable 96-minute third set that allowed Djokovic to keep his cool to win a tie-break that the whole game seemed to depend on.
Spaniard Nadal, 35, broke serve in the opener of the fourth set and led 2-0, but couldn’t cope with Djokovic’s record level as he quickly won the next six games for conclude the victory after more than four hours on research.
Djokovic looked broken as he raised his arms in celebration, then smiled wearily as he prepared for the on-field interview given by the winner.
“To win against Rafa on this court you have to play your best tennis, and tonight I played my best tennis,” said the Djokovic, who could now win his 19th Grand Slam title to go behind the record. all time of Nadal and Federer.
“It’s hard to find the words to sum up what I’m feeling. You tell yourself that there is no pressure but there is. The pressure is a privilege – to test my game and my character in matches like this. “
Djokovic keeps his cool as he recovers from a slow start
Beating Nadal on the clay court at Roland Garros is widely regarded as one of the toughest jobs in sport, but if anyone wanted to achieve it this year, it felt like Djokovic was the man to do it. .
The world number one had hit cleanly and precisely throughout the tournament, moving well and playing aggressively on his way to the bottom four.
Nadal blew away Djokovic on a quick start when they met on Chatrier in the October final and, after scoring two break points in a nine-minute opener, he again managed to quickly change the scoreboard in its favor.
Unable to find his rhythm, or his touch with a few early drop-shots, Djokovic fell 5-0 behind in another extraordinary start that few expected.
Djokovic saved the bagel with a catch, settling down further to retrieve a break but couldn’t catch another.
Nadal served the second time, taking his seventh breaking point in an exciting first set lasting nearly an hour.
The fierceness of the exchanges continued in an equally grueling second set.
Djokovic was unable to consolidate an early break at 2-0 but backed up another in Game 6 with a gigantic hold where he saved three break points.
The pressure came when Djokovic tried to serve the set, producing a double fault to give Nadal another point of return.
The Serbian was taken down when Nadal made a long comeback and saved another on the way to re-establishing parity in one set.