‘A night you will remember forever’ – Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal react to their French Open epic

French Open
Novak Djokovic looking up

Novak Djokovic claimed he would remember his epic win against Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-finals for the rest of his life, after a game that has already been hailed as one of the best ever seen on a clay court.

The great Spaniard went into the contest having won 105 of his previous 107 matches on the Parisian clay, losing only to Robin Soderling in the French Open fourth round in 2009 and Djokovic in the quarter-finals six years ago.

He had won all 13 of his previous semi-finals but, in a 58th match between the pair that for three sets maybe surpassed any that came before, Djokovic found the answers to the greatest challenge in sport to win 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

The world No 1 said: “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 the quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force in the last 15-plus years, and the atmosphere, which was completely electric.

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“Just one of these nights and matches that you will remember forever.

“To win against Rafa on this court you have to play your best tennis, and tonight I played my best tennis.

“It’s hard to find the words to sum up how I feel. You tell yourself there is no pressure but there is. Pressure is a privilege – to test my game and my character in matches like this.”

Nadal made a statement with a break to start the fourth set but it was Djokovic who was in control of more of the points and, for once, the weary champion had no answer.

Djokovic insisted he had not been too bothered by losing the first five games, saying: “Even though I didn’t have such a great start, I was not too nervous because I felt like I was hitting the ball very well.

“It was just a matter of me working my way into the match and adjusting to his ball, which is completely different than any other player’s ball.

“But I was ready. I was feeling good mentally, physically. I was motivated. I had a really clear plan in tactics, what I needed to do in order to perform better than I have in last year’s final.”

After a titanic struggle over the opening three sets, it looks like the match would end in an empty stadium as the Paris Covid lockdown kicked in at 11pm local time, but the decision was made to allow the fans to stay.

“Considering what we were living through in this match before the announcement, I think both of us wanted the crowd to stay,” Djokovic told Eurosport.

“We both had tremendous support. These are the kind of matches we continue to play tennis for.”

Nadal had been trying to claim the outright men’s record with 21 slam titles and went in as a clear, albeit narrow, favourite, particularly given his drubbing of Djokovic in the final last October.

The Spaniard was was magnanimous in defeat, with a foot injury now putting his participation at Wimbledon at the end of June in doubt.

“I had the big chance with set point at 6-5 on his second serve in the third set, but I didn’t take it,” he said. “That’s it. Anything could happen in that moment,” said Nadal, who had won all 13 of his previous French Open semi-finals.

“Then I make a double-fault and missed an easy volley in the tie-break.

“These kind of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can’t make these mistakes.”

Djokovic must now rest and recover before he takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas – winner of a five-set contest with Alexander Zverev earlier on Friday – in the final on Sunday, bidding for a 19th grand slam title and to become the first man in the Open era to win each title at least twice.

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