Paris: Novak Djokovic dashed Rafael Nadal's hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title and his 14th French Open after the world No. 1 overcame the Spaniard 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 in a four-hour-22-minute semi-final that was replete with moments of brilliance as well as errors.
Nadal, who went into the match with 105-2 (win-loss) record and with a 7-1 record against the Serb, was the outright favourite to win the match and set up a final clash with Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas. For, he had lost only one set in this year's tournament prior to Friday's semi-final.
But the chinks in his game began to show early. The first set, though won by the Spanish world No. 3 with a 6-3 margin, went on for 61 minutes. Nadal saved a couple of break-points in the very first game of the match and then went 5-0 up before Djokovic fought back to show that he is up for the fight and won't take the Nadal challenge lying down.
The Serb, who was also the last player to beat Nadal in the French Open back in the 2015 quarter-finals, then took the second set. The seventh game was the heart of the set, indeed the match, as neither gave an inch.
Djokovic played some beautiful shots, some cross-courts even as he made some glaring errors. But the game that went on for over 10 minutes saw Nadal hitting the ball outside the court on a number of occasions and being forced to commit errors. The ninth game too stretched for long before the Serb sealed it. He won the set 6-3.
The third set, which saw heavy-duty and sparring tennis, went into a tie-breaker after Djokovic had broken a tired-looking Nadal in the fifth game. Nadal broke back in the sixth game.
The see-saw battle went on before the top seed sealed the set 7-4 in the tie-break and took a 2-1 lead after three sets.
The fourth set saw unrelenting Nadal breaking Djokovic but then the Serb won the final six games to seal a place in the final against Tsitsipas.
While Djokovic won 64 percentage points on his first serve and 55 per cent on the second serve, Nadal won 59 per cent on first and 49 per cent on second. The Serb converted eight of the 22 break-points he got as against six out of 16 by Nadal.
The biggest difference though was the double faults. Nadal committed eight of them against Djokovic's three.
Between 2005, when he won his first French Open and 2020 when he won his last of the 13, Nadal had not won the title at Roland Garros only on three occasions --- in 2009, when he lost to Robin Soderling in the fourth round; in 2015, when he lost to Djokovic in the quarter-finals and in 2016 when he had to pull out of the third round due to injury.