French Open

Djokovic topples Nadal in French Open match to ‘remember forever’

Djokovic topples Nadal in French Open match to ‘remember forever’

COMEBACK. Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after rallying in stellar fashion to win his semifinal match against Spain's Rafael Nadal.

Christian Hartmann/Reuters

‘Each time you step on the court with him, you know that you have to kind of climb Mount Everest to win,’ says Novak Djokovic after ousting claycourt king Rafael Nadal in a semifinal classic

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic said his win over Rafael Nadal in an epic French Open semifinal was one of the top three matches he had played and he would remember it forever.

The 34-year-old Serb lost the opening five games but hit back in magnificent fashion to win 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 in front of a raucous Court Philippe Chatrier crowd on Friday, June 11 (Saturday, June 12, Manila time).

He will now face Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final, where he will seek a second French Open title and a 19th Grand Slam title in total – to move one behind the men’s record haul held by Nadal and Roger Federer.

“Definitely the best match that I was part of at Roland Garros, and top three matches that I ever played in my entire career,” Djokovic told reporters after inflicting only a third ever French Open defeat on 13-time champion Nadal.

“Considering the quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force in the last 15-plus years, and the atmosphere which was completely electric.

“One of these nights and matches you will remember forever.”

The omens did not look good for Djokovic when he went 5-0 down in the first set despite playing well. It had horrible similarities to last year’s final which he lost to the Spaniard, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5, only this time he wrenched back control.

“The beginning of the match was kind of resembling last year’s final,” Djokovic, who enjoyed loud support throughout the four-hour contest, said.

“I was not too nervous though even if I was 0-5 down because the feeling was different from last year’s final, because I was just hitting the ball better and feeling better overall.

“I just kind of found my rhythm, found my groove. There was no looking back. Even though I lost the first set, I found my game. Things started to work out really nicely.”

Freshest guy

Even for a man of Djokovic’s physical and mental resources, the emotions of Friday’s win might leave a hangover and he will be fully aware that the last time he beat Nadal at the French Open in 2015, he ended up losing the final to Stan Wawrinka.

“I’m not the freshest guy right now obviously. But the good thing is that I have a day and a half to rejuvenate,” he said.

“I’ll enjoy this victory a little bit. I think I deserve after this big win to just relax a little bit without thinking about the next opponent, even though it’s a Grand Slam final.”

Djokovic saved a set point at 5-6 in a pivotal third set full of spellbinding rallies before taking the tiebreak. He then reeled off the last six games of the match to take his record over career-long rival Nadal to 30-28.

Incredibly, Djokovic is the first player in 116 matches to beat Nadal in best-of-five sets on clay after losing the opener.

Asked what it meant to beat Nadal at a Grand Slam he has owned almost exclusively since 2005, Djokovic said it was difficult to put into words.

“I mean, he has been the most dominant player of the Roland Garros history. He lost two, now three times, in his entire career here,” Djokovic said.

“The amount of wins that he has made on this court is incredible. Each time you step on the court with him, you know that you have to kind of climb Mount Everest to win.

“It’s just one of these matches that I really will remember for a very long time, not just because I won the match but because of the atmosphere, the occasion was very special.” 

Tsitsipas reaches first major final

Greek fifth seed Tsitsipas staved off a fightback from German Alexander Zverev to win 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 in a scintillating clash and book a maiden Grand Slam final spot.

Tsitsipas, 22, has long been marked out as a future Grand Slam champion and has already added the ATP Finals and a Masters 1000 trophy to his cabinet.

But he drew a blank all three times he reached the last four stage at a major before Friday’s semifinal.

He arrived for the contest with a 5-2 head-to-head record against sixth seed Zverev and a Tour-leading win tally in 2021 but had to toil hard and dig himself out of trouble on numerous occasions to finally taste victory after 3 hours and 37 minutes.

The win over the 24-year-old German made Tsitsipas the first Greek to reach the final of a Grand Slam.

“All I can think of is my roots,” an emotional Tsitsipas, trying hard to hold back tears, said on a sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier court.

“I come from a really small place outside of Athens. My dream was to play here and I would never have thought I would achieve it …”

Tsitsipas got an early break in the opening set, aided by two double faults from Zverev, and remained solid against the German’s heavy groundstrokes to hold onto his narrow advantage on a sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier court.

US Open finalist Zverev built a 3-0 lead at the start of the second set but Tsitsipas showed exemplary athleticism and staunch defense to win the next six games, leaving Zverev staring at his coaching team bewildered.

The sixth-seeded German, however, regrouped and added more power to his shots with early breaks in the third and fourth sets enough for him to level the match at two sets apiece.

Tsitsipas needed to change his game in the decider and he managed to find an extra gear to seal the contest on his fifth match point and booked a final outing. –