UPDATE: Rafael Nadal has marched into the semi-finals at Roland-Garros after an epic win over old foe Novak Djokovic.
In what was their 59th all-time clash, both men left it all out on the court in a clash that tipped over the four-hour mark as Djokovic failed to repeat last year’s semi-final clay conquest of Nadal on his way to the title.
The Spaniard won in four sets 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-6 (7-4) to set up a final four clash with Alexander Zverev, who defeated 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz earlier in the day.
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Nadal clawed his way back in the fourth set as Djokovic capitulated after securing a break and leading 5-3. The Serbian star was unable to send it to a fifth set, and was broken when he served for the match as the crowd at Roland-Garros willed Nadal on.
The Spanish icon got it back to 5-5 and was then completely dominant in the tie-breaker, setting up five match points at 6-1 before Djokovic staged a mini fightback and saved three in a row. However, Nadal held his nerve to close it out with his last opportunity on serve, taking it 7-4.
The victory for Nadal took his all time record against Djokovic to 30-29, since their first career meeting at the 2006 French Open, while extending his winning record to 20-8 on clay against the Serbian star.
The first two sets between the two legends took nearly three-hours to complete – with Nadal’s time sucking tactics inevitably playing a role in the extended time on court.
Nadal broke Djokovic in a marathon opening game that lasted 10 minutes — the first indication that it was going to be a long night at Roland-Garros. The 35-year-old consolidated his position as he moved to 3-1 in the first set after nearly half an hour, before wrapping up the first set 6-2 in 52 minutes.
The second set started the same way as the first — with a lengthy opening 13-minute game resulting in another Nadal break.
Nadal went up 2-0 then secured a double break to race to a 3-0 lead, before Djokovic finally scored a break of his own and held serve to work his way back to 2-3.
That’s when Nadal’s time delaying tactics came into play – leading to another marathon game that went over 18 minutes. During the fifth game Nadal, pushed the boundaries, basically daring the umpire to sanction him for going over the time limit to serve. Eventually, the match official did call him for a time violation, which was endorsed by US tennis legend John McEnroe, commentating for Eurosport.
“Now he says it?,” McEnroe said, referring to the umpire’s call. “How long has this game gone for so far? 12 minutes? Nadal just ignores him.”
However, Nadal’s time manipulation did nothing to stop Djokovic’s momentum in the second set, as the Serb star kept the pressure despite a Nadal break, to win the frame 6-4 in 75 minutes.
Nadal responded after his second set capitulation by breaking Djokovic in the opening game of the third set and then went on to take the third set 6-2.
BBC commentator David Law told The Tennis Podcast the Spanish star looked dangerous.
“Watching in the stadium and there is a sickening thud to the way Nadal is hitting the ball tonight. This is different. Terrifying. But also satisfying,” Law said.
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