Djokovic beats Nadal in epic fight to set up Tsitsipas final at French Open
Novak Djokovic came from a set down to eliminate the defending champion Rafael Nadal in a match for the ages. The Serb won 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 after four hours and 11 minutes of bravura tennis.
In the prelude to Friday's showdown, Djokovic vowed to give a better account of himself than he did during the 2020 final when Nadal pulverized him over the first two sets.
The Serb only showed signs of resistance in the third set of that match in October.
In mid June, he displayed his mettle once he was trailing 5-0 in the opening set. He made Nadal serve for it at 5-1 and 5-3.
The 35-year-old Spaniard won it 6-3 but Djokovic had seen and done enough to give himself belief.
And it was no surprise when the 34-year-old notched up three break points on Nadal's serve at the start of the second.
He converted to lead 2-0. Nadal was soon level at 2-2. But Djokovic broke again to move clear at 4-2. He saved three break points on the way to holding for 5-2. And he fought off another two on the way to serving out the second set 6-3.
Djokovic served for the third set an hour later at 5-4 up. But Nadal came back for 5-5. Djokovic showed grit to fend off a set point to take it into a tiebreak. And he won that seven points to four after 91 minutes of contrasting fortunes and tension.
They started the fourth set after an announcement over the stadium public address system that special permission had been granted for the spectators to stay past the government imposed curfew at 11pm to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The news was greeted with roars, songs praising President Emmanuel Macron and even the French national anthem.
Nadal, who got an early break, struggled with his serve but dug in to lead 2-0. But it was Djokovic, showing greater freshness, who turned on the style to erase Nadal's advantage and take a 3-2 lead. He took Nadal's serve again and, sensing Nadal was physically diminished, realised that solid serving and depth on the ground strokes should see him through in four.
After four hours and seven minutes, Nadal was serving to save his title. An eighth double fault did not start it off well.
And an unforced error on his backhand - his 21st of the match - gave Djokovic three match points. Nadal saved one of them with a trademark forehand down the line.
But the king was dead seconds later. Nadal's record will stand at 13 titles for at least another year.
"It was a privilege to be on the court with Rafa," said Djokovic. "It's the biggest match I've played here in Paris. It was a wonderful atmosphere. To beat Rafa on this court, you have to show your best tennis and I showed it."
Djokovic will take on the fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas after he overcame the sixth seed Alex Zverev in five sets to reach his first final at a Grand Slam tournament at the age of 22. That match lasted a mere three hours and 37 minutes.
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