Rafael Nadal emerged victorious from another giant French Open showdown with Novak Djokovic to move one step closer to a record 22 Grand Slam title.
Nadal, the 13-time Paris champion, showed all his fighting spirit and quality to win the quarter-final match 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-6 (3), the match lasted four hours and 12 minutes and ended. It’s 1.15 a.m. local time.
The result doesn’t do justice to a fantastic competition – 59th in the rivalry – that featured several giant games, stunning ball hits and swings in momentum, Nadal’s double-break lead in all the first three sets, an 84th second set a minute, and Djokovic declined two set points to force his Resolution – all in the vibrant atmosphere of Stade Philippe Chatrier even as the temperature drops late into the night.
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“Novak is without a doubt one of the best players in history, so playing against him is always a great challenge with all the history we have together,” Nadal said afterwards.
“Today was another one, and to win against him there is only one way: give your best from first point to last point. Tonight was one of those magical nights for me; an unexpected but very happy level.”
Nadal is now just two wins away from his 22nd Grand Slam title, which would put him two goals ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Tim Henman called this the men’s “most important” match of the past 10 years in the race to finish the most important titles, and there was tension and drama the whole time.
The opener set the tone, lasting 10 minutes and seeing 22 superb shots before Djokovic netted to give Nadal the first half.
From there the Spaniard escaped with the set, again breaking 4-1 with a wicked forehand on the line.
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Supported by the majority of the crowd, Nadal seemed to be in control of the match, finding a mark with his serve and forcing Djokovic into fouls.
Nadal didn’t let up after 49 minutes into the first set, and the winners continued to fly as he created seven break points in the epic opening match of the second set.
Eventually the pressures came in, a forehand kicked Djokovic into the corner and Nadal hit the net to break it.
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Nadal solidified the first half and then added another, slipping into a falling shot and hitting the home line for his 23rd win and a 3-0 lead.
But after looking less than his best in the opening hour, Djokovic began to raise his level, striking with more consistency and power on both flanks.
The world number 1 ranked player broke the score to 3-1 and then won the sixth match that lasted 18 minutes, in which Nadal was subjected to a time violation on his serve, to return to the required level.
The momentum seemed to be with Djokovic as he won his fourth game in a row, but Nadal brought himself back to his best and played some sparkling points to hold 4-4.
The 13-time champion couldn’t hold off Djokovic in his next match, though, losing twice in a row from the back of the court to give up the set.
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But Djokovic came off steadily at the start of the third set and lost 2-0. Another extended fist saw Nadal take the advantage to 3-1 and Djokovic’s poor serve handed him another break.
The number 1 ranked player in the world looked a different player than the player who won the second set as the number of fouls began to appear again, with a wild forehand wasted giving Nadal the set.
With fans in the crowd wrapped in blankets as the temperature dropped, Djokovic showed his frustration as he hit the net after losing the point.
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But Djokovic then broke when a shot from Nadal fell in plain view, after being checked by the referee in a discussion with the Spaniard.
Djokovic looked poised to move the match into the fifth set when he was leading 5-2 until Nadal found another level and saved two set points and broke again in a great match.
With the crowd on Chatrier bustling with him, Nadal picked up his pace and found Djokovic wanting.
Nadal led 6-1 in the tiebreak with a foul from Djokovic’s racket, and despite the resistance of the world number one, it was Nadal who netted an unforgettable win.
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