Djokovic comes from set down to beat Nadal in stunning French Open semi-final

Serb star will face Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s decider

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating  Spain’s Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-finals at Roland Garros. Photograph:  Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating Spain’s Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-finals at Roland Garros. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

 

Novak Djokovic came from a set down in a spellbinding French Open semi-final to inflict only a third ever defeat on the Parisian clay for Rafa Nadal, moving through 3-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2 in front of raucous crowd on Friday.

Nadal, bidding for a record-extending 14th French Open title, won the first five games of the match as he looked on course to repeat his drubbing of the Serb in last year’s final.

But world number one Djokovic seized the momentum, winning the second set and then edging a pulsating 97-minute third set on a tiebreak, having saved a set point.

The soccer-style atmosphere created by a crowd of around 5,000 inside Court Philippe Chatrier reached a crescendo towards the end of the third set as the Paris Covid-19 curfew loomed.

Thankfully, the Parisian authorities granted an extension to the 11pm cut-off meaning the magnificent contest could continue to be graced by a live audience.

But there was no reprieve for the 35-year-old Nadal as his seemingly inexhaustible resolve was finally broken.

He hung on like the true champion he is but Djokovic, looking fresh despite nearly four hours slugging it out with the world’s greatest ever claycourter, ruthlessly closed in.

After breaking for a 4-2 lead the end came quickly as he inflicted first defeat on Nadal at the French Open since he beat him in the 2015 quarter-final.

Djokovic will play Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final with the chance to move to 19 Grand Slam titles, just one behind the men’s record 20 held by Nadal and Roger Federer.

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas hugs Germany’s Alexander Zverev after after winning their French Open semi-final at Roland Garros. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas hugs Germany’s Alexander Zverev after after winning their French Open semi-final at Roland Garros. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Greek fifth seed Tsitsipas staved off a fightback from German Alexander Zverev to win 6-3 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-3 in a scintillating clash and book a maiden Grand Slam final spot.

Tsitsipas got an early break in the opening set, aided by two double-faults from Zverev, and remained solid against the German’s heavy groundstrokes to hold onto his narrow advantage on a sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier court.

US Open finalist Zverev built a 3-0 lead at the start of the second set but Tsitsipas showed exemplary athleticism and staunch defence to win the next six games, leaving Zverev staring at his coaching team bewildered.

The sixth-seeded German, however, regrouped and added more power to his shots with early breaks in the third and fourth sets enough for him to level the match at two sets apiece.

Tsitsipas needed to change his game in the decider and the 22-year-old managed to find an extra gear to seal the contest on his fifth match point.

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