Rafael Nadal Defeats Novak Djokovic in a Roland Garros Semifinal for the Ages

Rafael Nadal defeats Novak Djokovic in a thriller

(June 7, 2013) It was a blockbuster Roland Garros semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic that many would agree was more fitting for a Slam final. After all, Nadal and Djokovic met in last year’s final and have been the two best players in the world on clay for several years now. But Nadal’s time missed on tour last year left things up to chance and the draw had other ideas.

In his post-match press conference, Nadal reflected on what this match meant to him: “It was a really emotional match. … These kinds of matches make the sport big. I lost a similar one in Australia. Today was for me. I’m happy at the way that I played, and more than happy at the way I fighted (sic) at the fifth set after losing a big chance in the fourth.

This was expected to be a highly-physical, hard-fought match and it did not disappoint. However, neither player was at his absolute best for long periods of time, and there were far more unforced errors from both players than many would have thought possible, 119 in total. It’s not completely fair to criticize the players for this though. Neither one played poorly; the wind was wreaking havoc on both players all day, affecting all aspects of their games.

That didn’t stop this match from being exciting though. Nadal broke midway through the first set and held from there to take it 6-4. At one point, Djokovic reached for his hamstring and looked a little uncomfortable, but it didn’t really seem to affect his movement. When Nadal broke in the second set, though, it looked like it was over.  Djokovic responded as only Djokovic can, taking the next 4 games to level the match at one set a piece.

Things looked like they were over in the third set as Djokovic was clearly hampered by a groin or hamstring injury of some sort. Nadal took the set 6-1 and it was only inevitable that the fourth set would go the same way. And when Nadal broke to go up, it looked like things were done for the Serb.

“I really tried to come back,” stated Djokovic in his press conference of losing the third set and nearly the fourth. “The third set wasn’t great at all. I just dropped physically, but I managed to come back and start playing really really well as the match was going on.”

Digging deep, though, Djokovic once again found a way to fight, twice getting back a break in the fourth set before finally taking it in a tiebreaker.

The fifth set was one for the ages and lasted a grueling 82 minutes. Both players fought each other and the wind, mixing incredible winners with incomprehensible errors. Djokovic broke in the opening game of the set but couldn’t hold all the way to the finish, getting broken back for 4-all. The level of tennis then picked up tremendously and we were treated to an epic half set. Ultimately, though, Djokovic blinked and couldn’t keep it together the fourth time serving for the match. Three errors and a mental collapse meant a break at love to end the match.

Djokovic gave credit to his opponent’s level of play and reign in Paris.

“I congratulate my opponent because he showed courage in the right moments and went for his shots,” stated the Serb. “And when he was a break down in the fifth, he made some incredible shots from the baseline. … That’s why he’s a champion, ruling Roland Garros for many years.”

It’s hard to be disappointed by a match that lasted over four-and-a-half hours with two of the best clay court players tennis has seen. It was their 35th time playing each other in their professional careers, and they each seem to know the other’s game inside and out. And the match had everything: wind, drama, tweeners, complaints for both players and, of course, immense tennis.

Nadal now must leave all this behind, recover and be ready to take on a compatriot has is all too familiar with, David Ferrer, and vie for his record eighth title at a single Slam on Sunday, while Djokovic will be ruing his missed chances and moving on to Wimbledon.