Image Source: LA Times
As the two biggest rivals in men’s tennis met in the quarterfinals at the French Open, several variables favored Novak Djokovic. While both he and Rafael Nadal entered the clay court season with a lot of uncertainty, only Djokovic has made significant progress since then. Meanwhile, Nadal continued to look for his best form following his rib fracture. A flare-up of his persistent foot condition made his preparations more difficult. So far, his performance in Paris has been below standard.
Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, is a different story. At Roland Garros, of course. He’s the man who has won 110 games in his home with only three losses, demonstrating throughout the course of his 17 years there that form and other details don’t matter in the face of utter, unrivaled dominance. In a match that lasted from May to June, Nadal blew Djokovic away in the first set, then shook off multiple strong comebacks and immense pressure to win 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4) at 1:15 a.m. local time after four hours and 11 minutes.
“It was a very difficult encounter,” Nadal said. “Without a question, Novak is one of the greatest players in history. It’s an incredible challenge to play against him all of the time. Today was another another chapter in our shared history.”
Nadal goes to 29-30 versus Djokovic in their head-to-head in the 59th encounter of the storied rivalry that never ends. In the semi-final, he will face Alexander Zverev, who won the biggest grand slam match of his career by edging off an often unpredictable Carlos Alcaraz, snuffing out the surrounding buzz 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6. (7).
When Nadal got on his court, he immediately established the tone by forcing his way inside the baseline and looking to unload on his forehand down the line, which has long been the gauge of his confidence. During one of the many tense early games, Nadal broke Djokovic’s service after several deuces in the first game. Djokovic struggled in the first set as a brilliant Nadal marched through it. With a double break, Nadal established a 6-2, 3-0 lead. His backhand sprayed unusual unforced errors, returns landed short, he struggled to keep up, and he struggled to keep up.
It was only a matter of time before Djokovic made his presence felt, and he did so right now. With his return, he scythed Nadal’s serve down and slowly went up the baseline, as he was the one who dictated the exchanges, crushing the ball and pressuring Nadal’s forehand. He leveled the match by winning six of the following seven games, but only after an 88-minute set of long, punishing deuce games.
Djokovic’s level spiked, but it was short-lived. Nadal began the third set by constantly attempting to reach the net, and he overpowered a mediocre Djokovic throughout the match. The momentum, on the other hand, continued to swing. Djokovic refocused on his serve return, and when he broke serve in Nadal’s first service game of the fourth set, he had returned to the top of the baseline, putting continual pressure on Nadal and giving himself a chance to serve out the set. He led 5-2, but Nadal fought back, saving two set chances at 5-3 before breaking with an inside out forehand winner.
“There is just one way to beat Novak: play your best from the first point to the last.” For me, today was one of those nights. “It’s a surprising level, but I’m ecstatic,” Nadal remarked.
Djokovic later admitted that he was second best on the day, saying, “I know I could have played better.” “I’m proud of the way I fought and stayed till the very last shot.” As I already stated, I was defeated today by a superior player. I had a chance. They were not used. That is all there is to it. I had to accept this defeat after a four-hour war.”