Novak Djokovic ends Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros reign after spectacular Semi-Final showdown

Jonathan Davies in French Open 11 Jun 2021
History is in sight for Djokovic (Frank Molter/DPA/PA Images)

Novak Djokovic booked his place in a sixth French Open final after ending Rafael Nadal’s 33-match victorious streak at Roland Garros by prevailing 3-6 6-3 7-6 6-2 in an epic four-hour battle.

Djokovic had lost seven of his eight previous showdowns at this tournament against 13-time winner Nadal, who was eyeing a fifth successive title at the place where he had never lost in the semi-finals.

And the omens looked worse for the world number one as he was outclassed in the first set; given the Spaniard was yet to taste defeat here after winning the opener.

However, a cocktail of lethal returns and backhands proved instrumental as he turned things around before securing a memorable victory in the 58th meeting between the highly decorated duo.

Djokovic sets up a final showdown with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who became the first Greek player to reach a Slam showpiece after seeing off Alexander Zverev in a five-set thriller.

Aiming to claim a record-breaking 21st major crown, Nadal was appearing in his 14th Roland Garros semi-final.

The Spaniard made the best possible start; breaking twice to open a commanding 5-0 advantage and although Djokovic reduced the arrears to 5-3, he eventually saw it out to draw first blood.

Looking to become the first player to beat Nadal from a set down in this event, the Serb hit back in the second with a crucial break in game six paving the way for him to level.

A 93-minute-long third set ensued with the pendulum swinging one way then the next as Djokovic was pegged back to 6-6 from 5-3 up.

Nevertheless, the top seed held his nerve to claim the tie-break 7-4 much to the delight of the Roland Garros crowd, for whom the traditional 11pm curfew was extended by the French authorities to enable them to observe the remainder of a thrilling contest.

A break in the sixth did the trick for Djokovic once more in set four, as he subsequently closed out the next two games to inflict only a third-ever defeat on Nadal in Paris.

Seeking a second title, the 2016 champion now finds himself one victory away from becoming the first male player in the Open era to achieve a double Career Grand Slam.

Standing in his way is fifth seed Tsitsipas, who withstood Zverev’s fightback to prevail 6-3 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-3 in another epic encounter.

The Greek ace has enjoyed an impressive clay-court season; triumphing in Monte Carlo and Lyon while finishing runner-up to Nadal at the Barcelona Open.

This was his second successive semi-final at Roland Garros following a straight-sets victory over second seed Daniil Medvedev in the last eight.

He made the ideal start; breaking in the second game on the way to taking the opening set 6-3.

That ended a run of 15 consecutive sets for Zverev, who had never beaten Tsitsipas after losing the opener.

The first German to appear in the men’s singles semi-finals here since Michael Stich in 1996, he broke early in the second set on the way to a 3-0 advantage.

But the Greek fired back with six games in succession to double his lead.

Despite the deficit and still searching for his first Slam victory over a top-10 player, Zverev was not panicking.

After all, the German recovered from two sets down in his US Open semi-final win over Pablo Carreno Busta back in September.

And he hit back with a vengeance; twice breaking early on to take the next two sets 6-4.

Zverev certainly had the momentum heading into the deciding set, with Tsitsipas saving three break points to hold in the opening game.

Although, that seemed to inspire the former Tour Finals champion, who subsequently broke in the fourth game before holding serve to see out a dramatic victory.

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French Open 2021 Results

Friday, June 11

Semi-Finals

Court Philippe Chatrier

Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 Alexander Zverev
Novak Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 Rafael Nadal

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