Rafael Nadal’s reign as the king of the French Open is over after more than five years of invincible tennis at Roland Garros.
The Spaniard and Novak Djokovic fought out one of the most epic battles seen at Roland Garros before the World No. 1 found another gear in a match that had everything.
Nadal’s 1834-day unbeaten stranglehold on the tournament was broken on Saturday morning (AEST) after Djokovic delivered an insane, faultless performance during a third set tiebreak and broke Nadal’s back with six consecutive service games to take the fourth set.
The Serbian did the impossible to progress to the final with a four-hour, 3-6 6-3 7-6 (4) 6-2 win.
He will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final after the Greek star won a marathon 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 match against Alexander Zverev.
It was just Nadal’s third loss at the French Open, with an insane record of 105-3.
It was his first loss since 2016, a run of 33 consecutive victories.
It took his head-to-head with Djokovic at the tournament to 8-2.
The scoreline does not do the battle justice after a bonkers third set some tennis greats described as one of the best sets ever seen.
Djokovic said after the match he will never forget the special semi-final.
“Definitely the best match that I was ever part of in Roland Garros, and top three in my career,” he said.
“One of these nights and matches that you’ll remember forever.”
The result adds further intrigue into the three-way battle between Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer as they fight to end their careers with the most grand slam wins.
Federer and Nadal are tied on 20 with Djokovic potentially going to 19, if he beats Tsitsipas.
Djokovic came up big when it mattered in the third set, but both players were dropping jaws across the tennis world as they put on a show.
The incredible drama reached a frenzy in the third set when the local Paris Covid-19 curfew was scheduled to kick fans out of the stadium complex.
However, as the clock ticked down to the deadline, it emerged that the tournament had been given special permission for the crowd of 5000 to remain inside the Phillipe Chatrier centre court and cheer on the two titans as they headed for the finish line.
The quality of the match, particularly the 85-minute third set, left tennis stars including grand slam winners Andy Roddick and Victoria Azarenka shaking their heads.
Tennis journalist Jose Morgado called it “absolutely insane” and one of the best sets of tennis he had ever seen.
Tennis legend Andy Murray posted on Twitter: “You cannot play better clay court tennis than this. It’s perfect”.
Azarenka wrote the “level was insane”.
Roddick posted: “To this point, it’s one of the best matches I’ve ever seen”.
Nadal just couldn’t keep up the pace in the fourth set.
“This is the most important tournament of my year, but life is still sweet,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference.
“This is nothing bigger than a loss on a tennis court.”
Anarchy as crowd refuses to leave
The night-session semi-final was given permission to be concluded in front of spectators, despite the tie exceeding an 11pm local Covid-19 curfew.
“In agreement with the national authorities, the match will come to an end in your presence,” said a stadium announcer to 5000 spectators on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Djokovic had just won the third set of the semi-final on a tiebreak when the news was announced for a two sets to one lead.
Some fans had already chanted: “We will not leave, we will not leave” as the 11pm curfew came into view.
Upon learning that they had been allowed to stay, spectators began chanting “Thank you Macron! Thank you Macron!” in gratitude to the apparent intervention of the French President.
Nadal and Djokovic, meeting for the 58th time, had already been on court for three and a half hours.
Tsitsipas through to French Open final
Stefanos Tsitsipas became the first Greek player to reach a Grand Slam final on Saturday morning when he defeated Germany’s Alexander Zverev in a bruising five-setter at the French Open, admitting the experience had left him exhausted but proud.
Fifth-seeded Tsitsipas won 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3. He has a 2-5 record against Djokovic.
“All I can think of is my roots, a small place outside Athens where I dreamed to play on the big stage at the French Open,” said a tearful Tsitsipas on making his first final at the majors, secured on a fifth match point.
“It was nerve-wracking, so intense, I stayed alive. I went out there and fought. This win means a lot, it’s the most important one of my career so far.” Tsitsipas had lost all of his previous three semi-finals at the Slams — at the 2019 and 2021 Australian Open as well as Roland Garros last year in five sets to Djokovic.
“It was just such a big relief I was able to close it in such a good way,” he said.
“It was just exhausting. I’m proud of myself. I’m grateful for every single match that I get to play. I’m obviously just blessed to have the opportunity to play against the best and test myself.”
For Zverev, the US Open runner-up last year after surrendering a two-set lead to Dominic Thiem, it was a defeat he was determined to forget as quickly as possible.
“I don’t particularly care about semi-finals. Might sound arrogant. I’m not trying to be arrogant. I’m just saying it how it is,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have cared about a final either, to be honest. I didn’t win the tournament. Wimbledon is in two weeks’ time and I’m looking forward to that.”
Source: Read Full Article