The brilliant exhibition of high-quality tennis felt like a final courtesy of two of the finest tennis players in the sport’s history.
The men’s singles semi-final match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal turned into an epic battle that resulted in a thrilling four-setter victory 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 over the world No. 3 after four hours and 11 minutes.
The French authorities allowed the public on-site to watch the whole match, an exception to the Covid-19 curfew.
On the court Philippe-Chatrier, the arena that over the years witnessed Nadal lifting a record of 13th titles, the World No. 1 emerged victorious on Friday, becoming the first-ever player to toppled the defending champion twice at the Parisian tournament.
The Spaniard third loss in 108 matches at the French Open would not come easy for the Serbian player, looking to achieve his 19th Grand Slam title in Paris.
Nadal came out strong, serving well, probably playing his best tennis this week despite the early double faults in the opener.
The third seed got a double break, up 4-0 over Djokovic, and after converting his seventh set point, claimed the first set 6-3 in 59 minutes.
In their 58th meeting, pressure ruled, which gave plenty of room to unforced errors by both sides, albeit their resilience stole all of the lights, while impossible is a word that found no room in the stadium.
The 2016 Roland-Garros champion produced an early break in the second set and went on to win five of the last six games, even the score with the Spanish player, taking the win 6-3 in 53 minutes.
A confident Djokovic came back to the clay court, and so did his opponent; neither of them would know, they would go on to play one of the best sets of the season.
On the full display of his skills, the Belgrade native took the lead at 3-2, converting his fifth break point of the third set to lead.
Djokovic served for the third set, with Nadal breaking back; at 5-5, the match was as tight as it could be – both players have won 97 points total by then.
The 34-year-old saved a set point and captured the third set after a nail-biting tiebreaker to come out on top 7-6(4), leading the score by two sets to one.
The Spanish player took a 2-0 advantage in the fourth set, which he lost when the Djokovic regrouped, breaking Nadal’s serve at 4-5, and though he next recorded his third double fault in the match, managed to move on to win the next six games.
The first player in history to defeat Nadal in a Paris semi-final close out the fourth set 6-2 in 37 minutes to advance to the Roland-Garros final.
In an on-court interview, Djokovic said: “It was for sure the most beautiful match I have played here in Paris.”
He added: “You tell yourself there is no pressure, but there is a lot of pressure, trust me.”
All in all, Djokovic hit 50 winners and 37 unforced errors, while Nadal hit 48 and 55, respectively.
On Sunday, the nine-time Australian Open champion will face the first Greek player to reach a Grand Slam singles final.
Making history for Greece, Tsitsipas beat Zverev in their first best-of-five-set match against each other 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 after three hours and 37 minutes in another epic battle on Chatrier.
Djokovic played the World No. 5 at the 2020 edition of the French Open, prevailing over the 22-year-old in the semi-final stages of the event.
The Athens native is the youngest Roland-Garros men’s singles finalist since Nadal (2008).