When the two biggest rivals converged at the French Open once again, many factors pointed in favor of Novak Djokovic. While both he and Rafael Nadal had entered the clay-court season filled with uncertainty, only Djokovic had made notable strides since then. Nadal, for his part, was still looking for his best form after his rib fracture. His preparation was complicated by a recurrence of his chronic foot injury. His form in Paris has been, so far, unsatisfactory.
But such is Nadal at Roland Garros, the man who has won 110 times at home with only three defeats, who has shown throughout his 17 years that form and other frivolities have little relevance in the face of total and unprecedented dominance. . In a match that began in May and ended in June, Nadal outplayed Djokovic in the opening stages, then absorbed multiple strong counterattacks before rallying to win 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4).
In the historic 59th meeting of the rivalry that never ends, Nadal advances to 29-30 against Djokovic in their head-to-head record. He will face Alexander Zverev in the semi-final, who played the best big game of his career as he quelled the hoopla and outplayed an often erratic Carlos Alcarazshutting down the hype surrounding him when he won 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(7).
When they met for the first time in their careers in 2006 on these courts and in this very round, Nadal was a Grand Slam champion for the only time, while Djokovic represented Serbia. Y Montenegrin. Sixteen years later, this occasion marked the first time in the Open era that two players with 20 Grand Slam titles met.
Nadal came to his court and set the tone from the start, working his way down the baseline and looking to unload his forehand down the line, the historic barometer of his confidence. He moved extremely well, constantly countering under ample early pressure. During the many tight first games, Nadal broke Djokovic’s serve in the opening game after several deuces and then immediately consolidated it.
When Djokovic generated break points in his second service game with a short flurry of flawless returns, Nadal rose to immediately quell them and broke for the second time with a thunderous forehand down the line winner.
In those early stages, when a sublime Nadal took the set, Djokovic struggled. His backhand sprinkled outlier unforced errors, returns landed short, and he struggled to keep up. Nadal punished him accordingly, winning four of Djokovic’s first six service games and establishing a 6-2, 3-0 lead with a double break.
It was only a matter of time before Djokovic asserted himself in the match, and it was at that moment that he did. Djokovic cut Nadal’s serve on his return and moved slowly over the baseline as he dictated the rallies, smashing the ball and accelerating Nadal’s forehand as the Spaniard started the ball short. Despite how he passed six of the next seven games, they played a series of endless brutal deuce games as Djokovic leveled the match.
Djokovic’s level rose sharply, but it didn’t last. Nadal opened the third set by continually looking to get to the net and immediately broke serve again. As he did, Djokovic struggled to keep up. He played a sloppy game at 3-1, offering the double break with a loose backhand error. As Djokovic’s errors continued to flow, there would be no answer in the third set.
But the momentum only continued to oscillate. Djokovic scored again on his service return, landing countless returns at Nadal’s feet. When he broke serve in Nadal’s first service game, he was back at the top of the baseline again, putting constant pressure on Nadal and presenting himself with the opportunity to serve out the set. But Nadal charged, saved two set points and then nailed an inside-out forehand winner to break.
As the fourth set tiebreaker began, Nadal soared. He was timing his forehand down the line better than at any time since the first set. He landed three straight forehands to start the tie-break and with each point, the task against Djokovic became increasingly grim. His time at Nadal’s house this year ended with a thunderous backhand winner down the line of the Spaniard’s racket.
Earlier on Tuesday night, Zverev played one of the best big matches of his young career, staying rock-solid against Alcaraz and shutting down the surrounding hype by winning 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6. (7) . With his win, Zverev has unlocked a remarkable milestone by notching a top 10 win at a Grand Slam for the first time in his career.
Most notably, once the tour’s great young hope, Zverev provided a stark reminder of his own ability and the threat he poses to top players at the top of their game. Meanwhile, Alcaraz fought to the end and left his first Grand Slam tournament with a lesson that should only further his growth. “I leave the court, I leave the tournament with my head held high,” Alcaraz said. “I fight until the last ball. I fought until the last second of the match and I’m proud of it”.