Rafael Nadal won a late-night thriller against Novak Djokovic to ensure his record of 21 Grand Slam titles will not be equalled at the French Open. And the Spanish superstar is now two wins away from a 14th title here to extend his lead as the greatest male Major winner of all time.
This 59th meeting between the two tennis superstars lasted so long it started in May and finished in June. Nadal finally triumphed in the latest clash of the titans 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-6 at 1.16am local time – just 12 minutes before the latest ever finish at Roland Garros.
Despite preferring to play in the daytime, Nadal gave a devastating display of attacking tennis under the floodlights and took his fourth match point in the tiebreak with a backhand winner down the line after four hours and 12 minutes
It was an incredible display from a 36-year-old who limped out of the Rome Masters last month with his chronic foot injury – and then needed five sets to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime on Sunday. “It is very emotional for me,” he said. “It is incredible to play here. Everyone knows how important this tournament is for me – it is the most important tournament in my career.
“It was very, very tough to play Novak. He is one of the best players in history. It is always hard with the history we have. To win against Novak, there is only one way. To play your best from the first point until the last. It was a magic night for me and I am super happy. To feel the love from everyone here in Paris means everything to me.”
“I gave my best but I know I could have played better,” said Djokovic “I lost to a better player today. I had my chances and didn’t take them. I accept this defeat.” Djokovic had entered the match on a nine-match winning streak after winning the Rome Masters – and had won 11 consecutive matches here. But his quarter-final defeat means Alex Zverev will now become the new world No 1 by winning his first Major here. The German world No 3 will now have to get past Nadal in the semi-finals on Friday.
This was their first meeting since the semi-final won by Djokovic last year – and the first time two men with 20 Grand Slams each have ever played a match. The night session did not start till 8.45pm local time and Nadal was on fire in the warmer early conditions.
The Spaniard went a double break up at 4-1 and closed out the first set in 49 minutes. It was the first set Djokovic had dropped all tournament. The second set started the same with Nadal taking a seventh break point in an epic opening game and then taking his fourth of 12 break points to lead 3-0.
Eurosport analyst John McEnroe said: “He’s made Novak Djokovic, somehow, look ordinary.” But this time Djokovic fought back and levelled the set at 3-3 after a 15-minute game and leveleed the match after two hours and 18 minutes.
Nadal broke in the first game again in the third set another break saw him take the set 6-2. The fourth set started with Djokovic smashing the net with his racquet in frustration in Nadal’s first service game but the Serb still made the break to lead 2-0. At 5-3, the No 1 seed had two set points but put a backhand into the net for the first while Nadal conjured a brilliant backhand down the line before breaking and levelling the set up at 5-5 and taking the tiebreak.