Djokovic ousts Nadal in epic, meets Tsitsipas in final

  • Matt Trollope

Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal in a breathtaking Roland Garros semifinal to earn a shot at winning a 19th Grand Slam singles title. 

The world No.1 had lost seven of eight meetings with the mighty Spaniard in Paris -- including a straight-sets loss in last year's final -- but came through in a dramatic 3-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2 triumph.

The match hinged on a compelling, 98-minute third set full of stunning rallies and momentum swings; Djokovic served for it at 5-3 and later saved a set point before eventually claiming it in a tiebreak.

Nadal had only three times in his career trailed two-sets-to-one at Roland Garros. And only once had he recovered from that position to win.

He could not do so on this occasion.

In the final, Djokovic will face Stefanos Tsitsipas, who survived a five-set tussle with Alexander Zverev to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time.

Tsitsipas needed five match points to seal a 6-3 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-3 triumph – a result extending his winning streak to 10 matches.

The 22-year-old Greek becomes the youngest man in more than 11 years to advance to a major final.

And the emotions were released in his post-match interview at Court Philippe Chatrier.

Djokovic passes tennis' biggest test

Nadal dominated last year's final against Djokovic at Roland Garros, surprisingly winning the opening set 6-0.

And he looked set to repeat that feat when he went up 5-0 in the first set of Friday's semifinal.

Djokovic, however, scored three crucial games in a row last in the set and despite losing it 6-3, he commenced the second set with momentum, eventually going on to level the match after fighting off five of six break points.

Incredibly, the match had already clocked two hours but the most gruelling, intense period came in the third set.

"Definitely the best match that I was part of ever in Roland Garros for me, and top three matches that I ever played in my entire career."
Novak Djokovic

Djokovic looked the more likely when he broke first for a 3-2 lead, only for Nadal broke back immediately, as he so often does. Djokovic broke serve again to lead 4-3 and survived another break point to stretch his lead to 5-3.

Nadal's level rose in response, and he won three straight games against an increasingly dispirited Djokovic, saving two break points to nudge ahead 6-5 and earning a set point in the following game.

Djokovic, bravely, saved it with a brilliantly-struck drop shot and held serve to force a tiebreak.

This was, as expected, an incredibly tense affair, but Djokovic took control of it when Nadal stabbed a forehand volley long to trail 3-5.

Djokovic went on to win that crucial third set, and despite going down an early break in the fourth, he quickly reeled off six straight games against his increasingly fatigued and error-prone opponent.

Rafael Nadal received a rousing ovation as he departed the court following just his third loss in 108 career matches at Roland Garros. (Getty Images)

An incredible atmosphere at Court Philippe Chatrier was made more special when the crowd were permitted to stay for the duration of the match, beyond Paris' 11pm COVID-19 curfew.

Meanwhile, Djokovic emulated Tsitsipas by stretching his unbeaten streak to 10 matches, while ending Nadal's 10-match winning streak.

Tsitsipas continues brilliant run

Tsitsipas dominated the head-to-head series against Zverev (5-2) and the early stages of the match reflected that, with Tsitsipas breaking the German in his very first service game and maintaining that advantage for the rest of the set.

Although Zverev responded by jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second, his game went awry at that point, and he lost the next seven games to hand the world No.5 a two-sets-to-love lead.

Zverev rebounded from two-sets-to-love down in his first-round match against Oscar Otte and perhaps took confidence from that, elevating his game in the next two sets – he combined for 23 winners against 13 enforced errors in that span – to force a fifth. 

But Tsitsipas regrouped, saving three break points in his opening service game before building a 4-1 lead.

There were tense moments for the Greek when he saw four match points come and go as Zverev served to stay in the match, trailing 2-5.

Tsitsipas earned a fifth when serving for the match – and converted it to win after three hours, 37 minutes.

Stat of the day

Tsitsipas entered the match with a 0-3 record in Grand Slam semifinals. Zverev entered the match with a 0-9 record against top-10 opponents at Slams.

One player was going to enjoy a breakthrough. And it was Tsitsipas.

While he lost his Australian Open 2019 and 2021 semifinals in straight sets, Tsitsipas came closest to winning a semifinal at Roland Garros when he stretched Djokovic to five sets in 2020. 

At the same tournament one year later, he scored a victory that he described as “just exhausting”.

Tweets of the day

Quotes of the day

"Definitely the best match that I was part of ever in Roland Garros for me, and top three matches that I ever played in my entire career, considering quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success ... Just one of these nights and matches that you will remember forever."
- Novak Djokovic

“I was able to deliver and close the match when I had to. I'm proud of myself. I actually love what I'm doing. I love that I get to play in this stadium. 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, something that I've always dreamed and wished to happen one day. I'm able to be here and really going for it. I love that."
- Stefanos Tsitsipas

"I had the big chance with set point, 6-5, second serve (in the third set). Anything could happen in that moment. Then I make a double-fault, (missed an) easy volley in the tiebreak. But it's true that have been crazy points out there. The fatigue is there, too, no? These kind of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can't make these mistakes. So that's it. Well done for him. Have been a good fight out there. I try my best, and today was not my day."
- Rafael Nadal

"I'm not at a stage anymore where great matches are something that I'm satisfied with. Today nothing. I lost. I'm not in the final. Was it a good match? Yeah. But at the end of the day I'm going to fly home tomorrow. There's nothing positive about that."
- Alexander Zverev