PARIS – Follow along below for set-by-set analysis of the quarterfinal matchup between World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and the King of Clay Rafael Nadal.
Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 7–5, 6–3, 6–1.
Set 3: Djokovic, 6–1.
There it is. Nadal double-faults on match point and Djokovic finally gets his first win over Nadal in seven attempts in Paris. There's no way around it. This was an absolute drubbing. Djokovic has two more matches to go to finally complete his career Slam with his first French Open title, but we said it before and we'll say it again: This is the Serb's title to lose.
Points: Djokovic 102, Nadal 71.
Complete match stats:
6:10 p.m., Djokovic holds, leads 5-1*:Nadal finally gets on the board after falling behind 0–4. Surely we won't see a repeat of the first set.
This crowd is awkwardly quiet for such a blockbuster match. It's as if they can't fully process what they're seeing. But this has been a result that's been building all season. The fact is that Djokovic's quality has been more than a few notches higher than the rest of the field's, Nadal's included. Some believed that the familiarity of the court and the magical, mystical qualities of the terre battue at Roland Garros might help Nadal find his best level here in Paris. But comebacks are not an overnight process, and Nadal simply ran out of time.
6:00 p.m., Djokovic breaks again, leads 3-0*: The Serb is leaving nothing to chance this time. He breaks Nadal again and is three games away from his first win in seven tries against Nadal< here in Paris. He's already the only player to have three wins over the Spaniard at the majors. Only five men have ever won multiple matches against Nadal at the majors.
As we mentioned before, Nadal's ranking will drop after this tournament with a loss vs. Djokovic, but given his injury woes last season after Wimbledon, his ranking will surely get back up to where we're used to seeing it. Here's Nadal after his fourth round win, talking about the progress he's made this season:
"I have been playing a little bit more up and down talking about overall. Not only here. I said every day, no, I have been playing, you know, more up and downs the last few months before the clay season start. Playing with nerves for some moments.
"That's the real thing. But since Monte Carlo, you know, if I am honest saying that in Miami, for example, I say it after the press conference I was anxious. I was probably not ready to compete well with that nerves that I had there."
Nadal referenced a similar situation in Rio.
"But since Monte Carlo the history change a little bit. I play a lot in MonteCarlo; no nerves in MonteCarlo. I played a very bad match in Barcelona against Fognini, true. But in Madrid I played a few very good matches; one bad match against Andy Murray. In Rome I didn't play not one match, not one bad match. I lost a match that probably I should win, but I lost. But competing well with no nerves, positive attitude.
And here in Paris, Nadal says it is the same:
Not thinking about the next match, but thinking overall that's my season is not finishing here in Roland Garros. I say it every day. I think my dynamic changed a lot, and I am enjoying again on court because I'm able to play more days with calm. And enjoy on court and ultimately winning, you know, is feel yourself ready to compete and feel yourself with that calm that gives you the possibility to compete well. I think I am doing better now."
5:54 p.m., Djokovic breaks, leads 2-0*: Djokovic breaks Nadal in the opening game, which was a sloppy one from the Spaniard. The errors are coming at a quicker clip now.
If Nadal goes on to lose this match it will be just his second loss ever at Roland Garros. He will also drop down to at least No. 10 in the rankings, slipping to No. 11 if Jo-Wilfried Tsonga makes the final. Either way, it would be his lowest ranking in over a decade (April 2005).
Set 2: Djokovic, 6–3.
Second set stats: It was more of the same from Djokovic. He's playing unbreakable tennis off the baseline. As for Nadal, just too many loose errors when things got tight.
Second set complete match stats:
5:41 p.m., Djokovic win the second set, leads 7–5, 6–3:This is grinding, clinical work from Djokovic today. He needs three set points to close it out after leading 40-15, but he sets up Set Point No. 3 with an incredible pick-up volley winner that is sure to make the highlight reels.
Stat watch: Nadal is 70-1 at the French Open. He has never, in those 71 matches, lost the first two sets.
5:36 p.m., Djokovic breaks, leads *5-3:It happens that quickly. Djokovic is able to get to 30-all on Nadal's serve, and though Nadal builds a perfect point to open up the forehand down the line, he misses just wide to give Djokovic break point. The Spaniard's signature shot has not been there for him today. Hard to see him winning without it.
Nadal saves the first break point with a good serve but he can't save a second. Again, Nadal can't control his forehand down the line and he sprays it well wide to hand over the break.
5:27 p.m., Djokovic leads 4-3*: Two more holds for each man. Neither has seen a break point. Much more standard issue play in this set. I think they're both just trying to catch their breath after that rollercoaster of a first set.
Nadal has turned around his second serve winning percentage. After winning just 4 of 16 points in the first set he's won 7 of 8 so far in the second set. He continues to struggle to hit through Djokovic though. He has just three winners in this set. Djokovic has 10.
5:18 p.m., Djokovic leads 3-2*:More holds exchanged. The condition of the court is definitely in Djokovic's head. As it turned out, they didn't water it between sets and he's not happy about it. He's noticeably struggled with his footing on a handful of points and each time his body language has been the definition of angry and exasperated. You can understand why. In the 2013 semifinal against Nadal, Djokovic wanted the court watered down in the fifth set. They didn't. Those conditions benefited Nadal.
5:14 p.m., Djokovic leads 2-1*: Clean holds for both men to start the second set, so we won't be getting a first set redux. But Djokovic is not happy with the condition of the court. The court wasn't watered down between sets and Djokovic wants it to be and has been discussing it with his box and the chair umpire during the changeover.
Set 1: Djokovic, 7–5.
Djokovic needed six set points but the Serb finally converted one to break Nadal to take the opener.
The final game had everything. Nadal missed a terrible overhead at 30-15 to give Djokovic a look at 30-all. Sure enough, the Serb was able to earn three set points, putting aside his disappointment when Nadal barely made an overhead on set point No. 4 to save it—it ticked the net and somehow stayed in—and then when he duffed a forehand return into the net on set point No. 5. On Set Point No. 6 it was his speed that earned him the point. Having been pulled deep into his backhand corner, Djokovic raced over to his forehand corner to sting a fantastic shot that stayed low over the net. Nadal couldn't handle the volley and the Serb let out a sigh of relief.
First set complete match stats:
4:46 p.m., 6–5 Djokovic: Djokovic finally stops Nadal's run of four straight games to hold for a 5–4 lead. In an epic 12-minute deuce game, Nadal saves three set points, two with exquisite drop shots. Nadal is scrambling and fighting but he continues to struggle with consistent depth on both sides. Djokovic is jumping on anything short. He's also all over Nadal's second serve. The Spaniard winning just 31% (4 of 13 points) when he misses his first serve.
Stat update: 16 winners for Djokovic so far, 11 unforced errors. Nadal has 8 winners to 9 unforced errors.
4:28 p.m., Djokovic holds for a *5–4 lead: After a scratchy start to the match from Nadal, the Spaniard has rallied from 0–4 down to get back on serve and tie the match at 4–4. How did that happen? It was a combination of a furiously fast start from Djokovic, an escargot slow start from Nadal, and now the two have slowly met in the middle.
Nadal won just four points in the first four games of the match and struggled to find the range on his forehand. But he's starting to find it now and Djokovic has hit some terrible errors on key points, including short forehand from just a few feet from the net on break point to give Nadal his second break back.
Djokovic is looking nervous. He's already barking to his box.
For the first time in over eight years, Djokovic and Nadal meet each other in the quarterfinal stages of a tournament, an oddity that comes as a result of Nadal dropping down to No. 7 seven in the ATP rankings. "It does feel different because it's quarterfinals," Djokovic said. "I'm not used to playing him that early."
No two players have faced off more in the Open Era. This is their 44th career meeting, with Nadal holding a slim edge in their 23-20 head-to-head. Djokovic has never beaten Nadal in six tries in Paris, but then again, only one man ever has. The nine-time champion goes into Wednesday's match having won 70 of 71 matches at Roland Garros. That one loss came to Sweden's Robin Soderling in 2009. Beating Nadal in Paris is tennis' toughest task. Djokovic had his best chance in 2013, when he was up a break in the final set before losing 6–4, 3–6, 6–1, 6–7(3), 9–7 in the semifinals.
This post will be updated.