Daily Bagel: Nadal-Djokovic edition
The Daily Bagel is your dose of the interesting reporting, writing and quipping from around the Internet. Today, we bring you what's being written about Rafael Nadal's 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 victory over Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the French Open.
• Christopher Clarey, New York Times: It was only a semifinal and relegated to first on the Friday schedule, which meant that there were plenty of empty seats at the Philippe Chatrier court when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked on court to play for the 35th time. But by the time they finished chasing down each other’s bold strokes in the afternoon sunlight, there could be little doubt that this was the main event.
• Hannah Wilks, Tennis.com: Tennis these days has a superlatives problem, manifested not least in the rush to proclaim any match between the big guns a ‘classic’ as soon as it enters a fifth set, but if this match lacked quality for long stretches, the long fifth set—despite its somewhat abrupt and anticlimatic ending—left nothing to be desired in dramatic terms.
• Greg Garber, ESPN.com: How to describe the third set? Well, let's start at the beginning: There was a time when Djokovic did not have the best reputation as a grim gamer. Early in his career, he would tweak this or that and that hangdog, sad-faced Novak would come out. He would gasp for breath, mouth fully open, like a fish out of water. And, on too many big occasions, he would retire ungracefully. That side of his personality all but disappeared two years ago, when he dominated the game and won three of the four majors. But when Djokovic found himself trailing 3-0 in the third, he left the court with an ATP World Tour trainer. He had appeared to stretch his left hamstring at the end of the match's fifth game, but seemed to be fully operational until that injury timeout. For the better part of the third set, the sad-Novak face was evident. Nadal won six of the third set's games and seemed destined for his eighth final. But a funny thing happened on the way to a virtual walkover; Djokovic happened, actually. He stopped pouting, and, with the grim determination that carried him to the No. 1 ranking, he fought Nadal for everything.
• Jon Wertheim, SI.com: Nadal showed why is the King of Clay. Djokovic showed why he will go down as a Mt. Rushmore player. Great rivalry. Great battle. Great day. Great sport.
• Carl Bialik, Wall Street Journal: The match was a bit erratic. At times, particularly at the start and end, both men played near their best and produced the defense-turned-to-offense-to-defense rallies only they can. At other times, particularly the third set, only one man was near his peak. At a tournament full of five-set thrillers, Gael Monfils-Tomas Berdych or Richard Gasquet-Stanislas Wawrinka may have delivered slightly more thrills. Overall, though, Nadal and Djokovic showed they are the two best players in the planet at the moment.
• Brian Phillips, Grantland: Djokovic jumps out to a 30-0 lead but commits a couple of uncharacteristic errors (i.e., they were errors) to give Rafa the massive break. 3-2 Rafa. Nadal is looking extremely calm — he's sneering only a little, which is like the tenderest expression from him. Djokovic is looking both bug-eyed and vengeful, like an Imperial admiral who just got chewed out, but not quite killed, by Darth Vader.
• Chris Chase, USA Today: For tennis fans on the west coast, French Open semifinal Friday is like Groundhog Day, only you can’t watch Groundhog Day. On Friday morning, NBC stations on the west coast aired Today instead of the conclusion to the epic, five-set semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Viewers in the west would have needed access to the Tennis Channel or an online stream to watch Nadal eventually prevail 9-7 in the fifth set. NBC started its coverage on the east coast at 11 a.m., in time for the final 50 minutes of the match. Before that, the Tennis Channel was the only place to watch the semifinal clash. The broadcast network never preempts Today for tennis coverage, a fact that has long irritated fans of the sport. But even though complaints about French Open tennis coverage have been around for years, they were especially vocal on Friday given the high stakes of Djokovic-Nadal. • Shane Bacon, Yahoo! Sports: Djokovic now must wait another year to see if he can complete his career Grand Slam, and while he wasn't able to pull this match out, it seemed he is getting closer and closer to figuring out Nadal on this surface.