Rafael Nadal registered his monumental quarterfinal victory over longtime rival Novak Djokovic that began in May and ended in June.
In a thrilling match, Nadal got past the top-seeded defending French Open champion Djokovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) to move a step closer to his 14th championship at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
“One of those magic nights for me," Nadal said.
The match began a little past 12:15 am (in Indian time) and concluded more than four hours later.
“TV decides,” Djokovic said about the late start.
“That's the world we are living in.”
The bracket said this was a quarterfinal, yes, but it felt like a final, from the quality of play to the quality of effort, from the anticipation that preceded it to the atmosphere that enveloped it.
Nadal who will turn 36 on Friday, will face third-seeded Alexander Zverev in the semifinals.
When the subject of Nadal's future was brought up during his on-court interview, he smiled.
“See you, by the way, in two days,” Nadal said. “That's the only thing that I can say.”
Nadal's 3-0 lead in the second set did him no good; Djokovic ended up taking it and would say later, “I thought, OK, I'm back in the game.”
But Djokovic's 3-0 lead in the fourth did him no good, even though he served for it at 5-3, even standing one point from forcing a fifth twice. Nadal saved those set points and broke there, then ran away with the closing tiebreaker, seizing a 6-1 edge and and never losing focus after his first three match points went awry.
“I lost to a better player today,” said Djokovic, who had won 22 sets in a row until the 49-minute opener against Nadal.
“Had my chances. Didn't use them. That's it.”
This showdown was their 59th, more than any other two men have played each other in the Open era. Nadal narrowed Djokovic's series lead to 30-29 while improving to 8-2 against his rival at Roland Garros.
Nadal is now 110-3 for his career at the place. Two of those losses came against Djokovic, including in last year's semifinals. This time, Nadal made sure Djokovic remains behind him in the Slam count with 20.
Before Nadal advanced to his 15th semifinal in Paris, Zverev reached his second in a row by holding off 19-year-old rising star Carlos Alcaraz 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7).
Nadal heard far more support in the form of yells of “Ra-fa!” or “Vamos!” or “Te quiero!” Only once Djokovic began to assert himself in the second set was his nickname “No-le!” heard with any frequency.
As time passed and the air became colder — below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 Celsius). Nadal and Djokovic embodied the words in clay-colored capital letters in French and English along the facing of the lower level of the arena, attributed to Roland Garros, the World War I fighter pilot for whom the facility is named: “Victory belongs to the most tenacious.”
In the early going, and down the stretch, it was Nadal getting the better of the baseline back-and-forths, pushing and pulling Djokovic this way or that, up and back, until an opening for a clean winner presented itself. Djokovic reacted to his miscues by rolling his eyes, shaking his head or putting his palms out as if to say,
“What's going on?”
Nadal showed zero signs of being slowed or bothered one bit by the chronic pain in his left foot that flares up every so often and kept him off the tour for the last half of 2021 and arose again before the French Open.
Nor did Nadal betray a trace of fatigue from his five-set tussle against No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round on Sunday that lasted 4 hours, 21 minutes, nearly twice as long as Djokovic's matter-of-fact win that day.
“I'm not surprised at all,” Djokovic said.
“It's not the first time that he is able, a few days after he's injured and barely walking, to come out 100% physically fit.”
(Inputs from PTI)