From the moment the draw was announced, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were always tipped to meet at the semi-final stage and was the one that everybody, apart from supporters of the respective players, wanted to see. They both continue to set the bar in such a golden generation of tennis. It was remarkable, which may be a slight understatement to describe such a battle on Phillipe Chatrier that millions around the world were treated to.
It seemed that, from the beginning, they’d go the length of five sets and that the finest and smallest errors could be very costly. The first set began how expected, with long rallies on the baselines. And, the first set was decided by just one break. At 3-3, Nadal was presented with three very rare opportunities to break – when he finally did, he followed it up with a hold of a service to love. After one more hold each, the set was won 6-4 by Nadal.
In set two, the elusive break came much earlier than in the first set. At 2-2 and 30-0 up for Djokovic, he seemed to lose his service rhythm – losing four consecutive points to be broken. It looked as if the Spaniard had gained control but, much to the shock of the watching crowd, proceedings changed. An immediate break-back after a string of disappointing Rafa errors lead to the scores again being tied, this time at 3-3. Shortly after, it was a rare double-fault that proved severely costly. This immediately gave the world number one the courage to break again, leading 5-3 – the set was clinched after a hold of serve. Ultimately, the outcome of the set was 6-3 to Noavk – levelling the match.
The third set proved to be a very convincing one for the reigning champion. It was concluded in 37 minutes. Novak Djokovic dropped five games in a row, putting Rafael Nadal in firm control. After saving two set points, the Serb managed to hold and basically just prolong the outcome of the set. Nadal, serving for the set, at 40-0 and 5-1, was given a penalty of one point after the umpire penalised the third seed for taking too long between serves. It didn’t put Rafa off though, as he took the set at an emphatic 6-1. The Australian Open champion won a mere 12 points throughout the whole third set.
At two sets to one down, Novak knew he’d have to go the full marathon of five sets to secure a place in the final and have to win the fourth set to be in with a shout. He had it all to do and consequently came out with all guns blazing. At 3-3, with all games gained with holds, came a pivotal moment. Rafa gained two break points; he converted the second, which meant the match looked within close reach to the King of Clay. However, an error on his backhand proved costly for Nadal; it gave his opponent a break and a lifeline at 4-4.
When the former world number one began bouncing the ball and was poised to serve with a 6-5 lead, the final was in clear vision. Djokovic had other plans and broke, taking it to a tiebreak. The tiebreak started well for the defending champion but when leading 4-3, he threw it all away – Nole powered to three straight points, winning the tiebreak 7-4.
An incredible set four set up a final set. The Serb, aiming to complete a career Slam with victory at Roland Garros, made a perfect start to the final set. Nadal failed to hold on his way to slipping to a bad start, with the Serb leading 2-0 and seizing control as early as possible. Despite that Rafa continued to fight but still trailed due to Novak’s early break.
At 4-2 up, everything seemed in favour of Djokovic reaching the final but Nadal soon got back in it. Levelling at 4-4, the seven-time champion received a bit of luck – in the process of levelling, the number one hit the net when attempting an easy put-away. Despite his protests, he was subjected to a deduction of the point.
The battle continued and went on and on, until an abrupt break and swift hold of serve at 40-0 and 8-7 clinched the match and a place in Sunday’s final for Rafael Nadal. Having done it so many times previously, Rafa’s reaction was if it was his first French Open final but having come back to reach the final of his first Grand Slam since returning from a long injury is a fantastic achievement.
When a match goes on for such a long time, often it comes down to who maintains their fitness and stableness, in terms of psychology, best. Nole had a number of rants at the umpire about how slippery the court was amid a few costly misses. Maybe he had a point but this does suggest he was more on edge with such tense moments towards the bitter end.
However, both players fought incredibly – an intriguing match to watch. We were correct with our prediction earlier today. This epic five-setter really does demonstrate how high the standard is at the pinnacle of tennis. What continues to amaze me, is that they can still play at such a huge intensity for such a long period of time with amazing fitness levels. The match lasted 4 hours and 37 minutes.
Novak Djokovic will have to wait at least another year to complete his career Slam, the French Open is the one that persists in eluding him due to the dominance of Rafa.
Nadal will battle in an all-Spanish affair in Sunday’s final, facing fourth seed David Ferrer after he enjoyed a party-pooping win in Paris over home-favourite Jo-Wilfred Tsonga; 6-1 7-6 6-2. Ferrer heads into his first Grand Slam final with a clean record, he’s yet ton drop a set in the entire tournament this year. While the world number four, looking to win his eighth French Open title, has a record of 59 wins of 60 matches on courts of Roland Garros.
– Nathan Morley