Rafael Nadal outlasts Novak Djokovic in French Open semifinal marathon
Seven-time defending champion Rafael Nadal overcame No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 in the semifinals of the French Open on Friday.
Nadal looked well on his way to winning when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set before the ever-resilient Djokovic broke and raced through the tiebreaker to force a fifth set. Djokovic quickly built a 2-0 lead, but Nadal broke back at 3-4 and the match went into extra innings. Nadal finally broke Djokovic at love to seal the victory, improving to 58-1 at Roland Garros and spoiling the Serb's bid for his first French Open title.
The Spaniard will play either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or David Ferrer in the final on Sunday. (LIVE ANALYSIS: Tsonga-Ferrer)
Game-by-game analysis of Nadal-Djokovic after the jump.
11:51 a.m. ET | Nadal defeats Djokovic, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7.
It would be hard to miss an overhead as badly as Djokovic just did. He sailed it a good 10 feet out.
Errors from Djokovic and, all of a sudden, Nadal has three match points at 0-40. Toni Nadal is out of his seat pumping his fist.
THAT'S IT! In the blink of an eye, Nadal wins, breaking Djokovic at love to make his eighth French Open final.
What that match lacked in overall quality it made up for in psychological drama. Djokovic kept coming back -- down a set here, a break there -- and just when he looked like he would surge to the win after breaking Nadal to start the final set, he blinked. He blinked in the face of Nadal's relentless pressure and ability to compete. That's heartbreaking for Djokovic, who really felt like he was playing for a higher purpose in Paris after the loss of his childhood coach.
11:48 a.m. ET | Nadal leads, 8-7*.
A 108 mph forehand winner from Djokovic. As he's proved time and time again, that shot loses no pop as a match wears on. If anything, it gets bigger.
Up 40-15, Djokovic draws Nadal in with a drop shot and lobs him. Nadal goes the 'tweener route, putting it high over Djokovic's head, and the Serb duffs the overhead into the net. I put out a tweet two points ago facetiously asking if Djokovic's overhead was the worst shot in tennis. I'm feeling a little less facetious about it now.
Nevertheless, Djokovic holds. So does Rafa.
If I had to venture a guess, I think Nadal comes out and makes a huge push for the break here.
11:38 a.m. ET | Nadal leads, 7-6*.
Wait, this isn't the final? There's another match after this? Blame Nadal's knees, which sidelined him for seven months and caused his ranking to drop. Maybe also blame the draw gods for putting these two in the same half. Was it so difficult to put them on opposite sides of the draw? Was it???
Great service game from Djokovic, who has steadied himself after that disappointing eighth game. Meanwhile, Nadal is crushing winners left and right. He seems to have found his range and purpose again after a dip late in the fourth set. He holds.
11:33 a.m. ET | Nadal leads, 6-5*.
Djokovic could have let a shank forehand winner from Nadal that flew in the air like a lob and landed on the baseline rattle him. But he doesn't. He holds at 30.
Nadal holds with an ace. It's now a staring contest.
11:25 a.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 5-4*.
What must be going through Djokovic's head after that last game? Did that fluky put-away that should have earned him game point cost him that game? Well, no. He saved the break point that came from it. But you know how tennis players think. It's all about the butterfly effect. He really should have let that ball bounce instead of taking it out of the air. But that's really easy for me to say as I'm sitting on a couch.
Nadal holds at 15. And just like that, Djokovic will serve to stay in the match. And he's serving from the bad end of the court.
Remember, no fifth-set tiebreakers here. They'll play this out.
11:20 a.m. ET | Nadal breaks! Tied at *4-4.
Nadal has a 0-30 look to break back. Djokovic handcuffs him with a second serve into the body to earn an error, and Rafa's eye to run around every backhand bites him this time. He can't move his feet around a deep ball in time and gives Djokovic a short ball, which he crushes with a backhand.
At 30-30, Nadal earns a break point with a forehand that he absolutely annihilates down the line. Stunning. Down break point, Djokovic throws Rafa a change-up. He puffs a backhand back deep in the court and Nadal mistimes it and screams as the ball goes sailing wide.
Now it's Djokovic's turn to get a time violation. At deuce he works a fantastic point and earns a put-away at the net, but his momentum causes him to run into the net before his apparent winner has bounced twice! He loses the point and it's break point to Nadal!
Djokovic saves break point with tremendous composure, finishing with a mid-court forehand winner as Nadal is scrambling from side to side to get everything back.
At deuce, Djokovic gets burned again by a backhand that Nadal looks out of position to hit but he sends it cross court to win the point. On his third break point of the game Nadal finally converts when Djokovic sends a shot into the net.
What a turn of events. We're back to even. 4-4.
11:10 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads, *4-3.
Another hold for Djokovic. Time is ticking for Nadal.
In case you're wondering, Serena Williams is not watching this.
Nadal holds at 15 and pumps his fist.
11:03 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads *3-2.
Nadal gets a look at Djokovic's serve again at 30-30 but Djokovic steels himself to win the next two points to hold. In a roundabout way, he's making this look awfully easy.
Nadal's service games are no easier. Djokovic gets to 30-30 but Nadal earns game point with a fantastic defensive backhand that, as only Rafa can do, he sticks for a winner. Meanwhile, Novak is still smiling through all this. An error from Rafa and it's deuce. He blasts a forehand of his own that earns a shank from Djokovic and grits his teeth with a "Vamos!" Definitely a contrast in methods on how to deal with stress and pressure.
Hi Dirk! *waves*
Nadal eventually holds with a series of defensive backhands. When Djokovic goes to that side one too many times, Nadal steps in and sweeps it cross-court for a winner. Big hold for Rafa.
10:51 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *2-1.
Djokovic hands over a break point to Nadal with yet another overhead miss. He saves it with a gutsy drop shot and pass. Nadal saves game point with a terrific forehand down the line. Djokovic, though, isn't giving him as many cheap points as he was earlier in the match.
The Serb nails a backhand down the line to earn another game point and Nadal throws his head back in frustration. Djokovic wins the game by holding his ground on the baseline, not letting Nadal's deep shots or topspin push him back, and running Nadal side to side until he finishes him off with a backhand.
Nadal gets on the board with the hold. But can he wrench back the momentum?
Incidentally, lots of complaints about the lack of online streaming of this match. I agree, it's completely ridiculous and it sounds like the FFT is the one to blame.
10:39 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads 1-0.
The Legend of Novak Djokovic continues.
I could regale you with statistics but what's the point? Djokovic has no business being into a fifth set here. He's come back from a break down three times this match and he's still ticking. He was down a break in the second set and reeled off four straight games out of nowhere, and he was down a break twice in the fourth set and broke back. Let's not forget, Nadal served for this match and Djokovic broke him while practically wearing a smile on his face. Then the Serb plays a near-perfect tiebreaker to force a final set. Unreal.
Nadal's still suffering from that hangover after being broken at 6-5 in the last set. He falls behind 0-40 and suddenly Djokovic is returning like the guy we know. He breaks on his third break point and .. well ... what now?
10:32 a.m. ET | Novak Djokovic wins the fourth set, 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (3).
Djokovic leads 1-0: The Serb serves first and wins the point on a Nadal backhand error.
Djokovic leads 2-0: Mini-break to Djokovic, as Nadal nets another stroke.
Djokovic leads 2-1: Nadal gets on the board by cleaning off a line.
Djokovic leads 3-1: Finishes at the net after he approaches behind Nadal to his backhand side.
Djokovic leads 4-1: Tentative stuff from Nadal, who does nothing in the rally, and Djokovic finally steps in and sends a forehand down the line for a winner.
Djokovic leads 4-2: The men change sides after Djokovic sends a backhand return wide. Good first serve from Nadal there. Djokovic hasn't hit a single unforced error in this breaker.
Djokovic leads 4-3: Djokovic hits a backhand wide. Still up a mini-break.
Djokovic leads 5-3: Nadal dumps a backhand into the net.
Djokovic leads 6-3: Another huge forehand from Djokovic earns him an overhead and this time he doesn't miss it. Crushes it to earn set points.
Djokovic wins tiebreaker 7-3: WHAT A BULLET from Djokovic! Nadal with a terrific approach shot wide to Djokovic's forehand. The Serb sprints, slides and fly-swats an absolute ripper right at Rafa's feet. Nadal can't get it back and we are going to a fifth set.
10:21 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks back, tied 6-6: Tiebreaker.
Aside from Djokovic's erratic level, Nadal's forehand has been the story of the match. He's absolutely wailing on the ball and running around it quickly and decisively, and committing every time he hits it. That shows how confident he is today.
Down a break and trying to stay in the match, Djokovic is as loose as a goose. He's smiling with the crowd. And look at that: a Nadal error and Djokovic has a break point. With a tremendous return that lands plum on the line, he eventually finishes off the point with a forehand down the line. Throws a fist to the air to his box.
10:17 a.m. ET | Nadal breaks, leads *6-5.
Nadal holds fairly easily. Can Djokovic dig down and get this to a fifth set?
Stubbsy has French jokes! I was going to go with Provence, but I think the point is made. Djokovic has game point at 40-30 but misses a backhand down the line to get to deuce. With the match clock just clicking to three hours, it should be noted that Djokovic has now hit 51 unforced errors for the match. And yet he's still in this.
But Djokovic misses on two big cuts and Nadal has break point. He swings big one more time, clocking an inside out forehand, but Nadal runs it down, lunges for it, and gets it deep. Djokovic tries to get his forehand deep into the corner and misses long.
There's the break to Nadal, who will now try and serve out the match. Surely he won't get broken for a second straight time, right?
10:07 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks back, leads 5-4*.
Not so fast. Djokovic breaks right back, punctuating a fantastic return game with a clean return winner.
We saw how important the different ends of the court played yesterday in Maria Sharapova's three-set win over Victoria Azarenka. Today the near-side seems to be the better side. Djokovic holds at love for the first time in what feels like forever.
This match could still go the full-five sets and turn into a classic, but it's been a very weird, somewhat forgettable match so far. A few fantastic rallies but overall a very aarhythmic, awkward match.
9:59 a.m. ET | Nadal breaks, leads *4-3.
Nadal's level has been pretty consistent through the match, which is to say it's been very good. That means it's Djokovic who's determining how good or bad this match is. Nadal holds easily to 3-3 and then earns two break points on Djokovic's serve after the Serb misfires on a forehand long. But that won't stop him from swinging away. He saves the first break point with a big inside out forehand but on the second break point he mishits a high-bouncing forehand long.
Nadal breaks to 4-3. He just has to hold his serve and he's into the final.
9:49 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 3-2*.
While I was busy debating the rules regarding time violations with a Tennis Channel producer on Twitter, Djokovic and Nadal hold. Needless to say there is some confusion as to whether the current ITF rule says Nadal should have received a point penalty for his second time violation.
Anyway, back to the match.
Nadal's level has been pretty consistent through the match.
9:43 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 2-1*.
Through three sets, here's the W/UFE statline: Nadal: 33 winners, 20 unforced errors. Djokovic: 26 winners, 38 unforced errors. Captain Obvious chimes in to say Djokovic has to clean up those errors. Thanks, Captain.
McEnroe is still incensed about that time violation call. Robinson says the umpire got the rule wrong, that Nadal shouldn't have been penalized a point but given a fault for his second violation. He's wrong. That's the ATP rule. Slams are governed by ITF rules which call for a point penalty on the second violation. That's pretty irresponsible of Tennis Channel to get wrong.
As Djokovic earns game point with the exhibition-style point of the match. Djokovic hits two drop shots that land on the top of the net and roll over, Nadal gets to both of them with his speed, and Djokovic ends it with a perfect drop-volley. Big smile from the Serb as the crowd erupts.
9:34 a.m. ET | Nadal wins the second set, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.
For those who can't watch this live -- and yes, it's unfortunate to say the least that this is being aired live on Tennis Channel but not streamed online -- all I can say is that Nadal just made Djokovic look a heck of a lot like Sara Errani in this set. Rafa raised his level a notch, Djokovic dropped his level five notches, and the gap was cavernous. He holds to get on the board, which means if Nadal serves out the set the Serb will serve first in the fourth set.
Nadal goes to serve for the set and goes to 40-0 when Novak sends an overhead into the bottom of the net. Nadal gets a second time-violation which leads to a point penalty, and let's face it, he totally deserved it. He's been taking well over 30 seconds between points in that game.
"I wish they'd throw guys out of the chair," an incensed McEnroe says. Heaven forbid we follow the rules and allow people to watch some great tennis and enjoy the rest of their day.
No bother for Nadal. He holds and we head to a fourth. There has still never been a bagel set between these two in 35 meetings.
9:22 a.m. ET | Nadal breaks again, leads *5-0.
It's all going the wrong way for Novak. All of a sudden it doesn't look like he knows what he wants to do out there and the execution of whatever it is he's trying to do is failing. Nadal doesn't have to do much to secure a second break in the set, as Djokovic throws in a weak double-fault, an even weaker drop shot, and weakest of all, a regulation backhand miss into the middle of the net. This letdown is somewhat reminiscent of what happened to Djokovic in the first round Madrid when he roared back to take the second set against Grigor Dimitrov and looked poised to roll in the third, but had a complete mental lapse and lost the match with a whimper.
McEnroe and Robinson say Djokovic is throwing in the towel on this set to conserve energy. It certainly looks that way. He's not moving for much and swinging big to try and end points quickly. He's missing. Nadal consolidates at love as the crowd is dead silent.
9:13 a.m. ET | Nadal breaks, leads 3-0*.
The courts have been watered and Nadal will serve first to start the third set, otherwise known as the tipping point of a one-set-all best-of-five match.
Djokovic gets to deuce but winds up for a big forehand and sends it long. He's getting better depth on his shots and though he missed that shot, the aggression is good to see. He's not not going win of he sits back and lets Nadal be the aggressor 70 percent of the time. Nadal holds to 1-0.
It feels like it's been a while since either of these two has held at love or 15. On his own service game, Djokovic sends a forehand long to give Nadal a 30-30 look at his serve. Nadal earns a break point and Djokovic sends a backhand cross court that seems to skid the line. Nadal says it's out, Pascal Maria takes a long look and agrees. Djokovic can't believe it. Tennis Channel's Hawk-Eye (which is not definitive and, let's face it, isn't always right) says the ball just ticked the line.
Rafa breaks.Another uphill climb for Djokovic.
Nadal consolidates his break to 3-0. He didn't just snap Djokovic's run of four-straight games. He put it in the woodchipper.
Djokovic now leaves the court with the trainer. There's a part of me that thinks he would have tried to call the trainer in the first set but didn't want to get tagged with any charges of gamesmanship. Now that the match is level at 1-1, maybe he's now inclined to have his leg looked at?
8:56 a.m. ET | Djokovic wins the second set, 6-4, 3-6.
"Please go five sets!" says McEnroe, as Nadal plays a tremendous point full of heavy hitting that he finishes with a drop-volley at the net. You know, for a guy who really hates the idea of playing out the fifth-set because of the physical tax on the players, he sure does love a good five-hour physical battle.
Nadal gets to 30-30 on Djokovic's serve but this time Djokovic takes control of the rally and the two punish the ball for over 10 shots before Djokovic cleans a line with a forehand. He holds and we're level at a set apiece.
In case you missed it, Djokovic won the last four games of that set.
8:51 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *5-3.
Djokovic does well to consolidate and he gets to deuce on Nadal's serve once again. Nadal double-faults to give Djokovic a break point and Djokovic converts with a brilliant forehand down the line that landed within an inch of the corner, earning a short ball that Djokovic punishes with a forehand winner. He'll serve to level the match.
What. A. Turn-around.
8:40 a.m. ET | Djokovic breaks back, tied 3-3*.
Just as I say that, Djokovic plays his best return game of the match to earn his first break point. Nadal sends a jumping second serve to his backhand and Novak sends the return long. He earns another break point as he sends a backhand deep and Nadal tries to run around it but can't in time, mishitting a forehand.
Nadal saves that break point with a terrific forehand down the line. He's been so decisive in his desire to run around any backhand he sees and take control with his forehand. Sometimes he can't get around in time and misses it. But more often than not that aggressiveness is paying off. He's the aggressor today.
Djokovic earns Break Point No. 3 and Nadal runs around yet another backhand but this time hooks it wide down the line. Djokovic breaks for the first time and he's back on serve.
8:30 a.m. ET | Nadal breaks, leads *3-2.
Breaking news: Djokovic hit a backhand down the line and it was in! And he won the point.
At 0-15, Nadal shakes off a time violation warning from chair umpire Pascal Maria and holds, though he definitely wasn't happy about it. So you win, McEnroe. I really didn't think the umpire would insert himself into this match. But Tennis Channel shows Nadal's been taking an average of 30 seconds between points, compared to Djokovic's 26 seconds. If that's the average then that's a legitimate time violation.
Here's a telling stat: Nadal is winning 69 percent of his second serve points so far. That's a remarkably high percentage against one of the best returners in the game. Nadal's year-long average is 55 percent.
Dangerzone for Djokovic. From 30-0 on his service game he loses four straight points, the last on a poor drop shot that Nadal easily pushes back down the line. He shoots a look of fury to his box.
If Novak can't turn it around this is going to be a straight-set dud.
8:20 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads, 2-1*.
Yeah. That's a pretty darn notable stat.
Djokovic is still misfiring on his backhand, which is the shot he needs to beat Nadal. That shot was the key to his Monte Carlo win, where he was able to neutralize Nadal's heavy topspin by taking the ball early and getting the ball flat and deep on Nadal. He's already hit 10 unforced errors on that wing. Regardless, he holds to start the set.
McEnroe keeps harping on the imaginary and non-existent problem of the umpire potentially telling Nadal and Djokovic to speed up their pace of play. The ATP's new enforcement provisions surrounding time violations doesn't apply at the Slams, which are played under ITF rules. As we saw at the Australian Open, umpires aren't calling it as much if at all at the Slams. So don't sweat it, J-Mac.
Djokovic gets to 30-30 on Nadal's serve and then hits a regulation backhand that he mean to send down the line two-feet wide. He let's out a primal roar to the heavens in frustration. He's completely lost his timing and confidence on that wing. Nadal holds.
Tennis Channel shows a graphic showing Djokovic placing 55 percent of his backhands down the line. Considering how many he's also missed trying to go that way, his intentions are clear. But if that's his tactic and he can't nail that shot when he needs to, it's pretty pointless. Djokovic holds at 30.
8:06 a.m. ET | Nadal wins the first set 6-4.
It's an execution issue for Djokovic. He hits the right shot to get Nadal out of position but can't hit the kill shot. Nadal has two set points that he really didn't earn after Djokovic can't put him away in the points -- though really, isn't that how Nadal earns so many of his points? -- and Nadal holds to take the first set in 57 minutes.
8:01 a.m. ET | Nadal leads, *5-4.
No trainer called on the changeover, though McEnroe is convinced something is off with Djokovic. So is ESPN.
The unforced error count is racking up for Djokovic. He hits two errors to give Nadal 30-0 and then doesn't even make a move on the next serve, giving Nadal the ace. The Spaniard holds and goes to change his racket.
Djokovic with an easier service game but he's still spinning in serves. Can Djokovic beat Rafa without his serve? I don't think so.
Nadal will serve for the set.
7:55 a.m. ET | Nadal leads, *4-3.
Nadal holds again and so has Djokovic, but Nadal seems to be getting stronger as this first set rolls along. He's hitting bigger, his ball is getting more kick off the ground, and Djokovic's serve isn't helping him as much as it needs to. Sure enough, he breaks.
At 30-30 on Djokovic's serve, Nadal has a mid-court forehand to put away that would give him break point but he sends it just long. But a Djokovic error and it's deuce. Djokovic has now taken a lot off his first serve, leading McEnroe to speculate that something may be wrong physically. Djokovic looked to have tweaked his ankle early in the set but it's not affecting his movement during points so I'm not sure it should affect his serve.
Djokovic saves one break point but Nadal gets another after he cracks a big backhand return. Down Break Point No. 2, Djokovic goes huge on an inside-out forehand for a winner to save. Nadal earns Break Point No. 3 as the game passes the seven-minute mark and he converts when Djokovic sends a backhand long.
7:42 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads, 3-2*.
How slim are the margins between these two men? McEnroe and Ted Robinson are having a lengthy discussion of when the courts will be watered during the match. Between sets? Can a player request it? Watering down the courts would obviously favor Djokovic, as would any change in conditions that would make the court heavier and slower. Had this match been played last week during the unseasonably cool conditions, I suspect more pundits would have picked Djokovic to win. The fact that the sun is out and bearing down on the court -- Djokovic is going with a cap -- has to give Nadal confidence.
Not as easy a hold this time for Djokovic, as Nadal gets it to deuce by battering Djokovic's forehand side, stretching him wide and then pummeling a mid-court ball down the line. Nadal is whipping his forehand and trying to take time away from Djokovic by taking it early. But Djokovic holds on a poor bailout drop shot from Nadal that lands wide.
We're at 3-2. It's been 27 minutes. I'm regretting the optimistically small pot of coffee I brewed 30 minutes ago.
7:29 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads, 2-1*.
Easy and emphatic hold from Djokovic to start the match. Nadal has to work much harder for his hold, battling through a deuce game. One thing's for sure, they've come to play. Djokovic is doing what he did when he beat Nadal in Monte Carlo in April and really taking it hard and flat to Nadal's backhand. This is the key to Djokovic's success against Rafa, success that someone like Roger Federer can't mimic. He isn't bothered by Nadal's heavy topspin to his backhand side and can go backhand to backhand all day.
McEnroe wants Djokovic to go hard and wide to Nadal's forehand side to open up the court. That's playing with fire but Djokovic has the balance and firepower to do it. He holds easily again and we're on serve as the men change sides.
7:00 a.m. ET | Warm-up
It's a warm and windy day in Paris as Nadal takes the court first, followed by Djokovic. The last time Nadal has been introduced onto Court Philippe Chatrier first, a position reserved for the lower-ranked player, was last year's final, when he defeated Djokovic 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 to win the title.
"This is going to be a monumental moment for our sport," says John McEnroe, with his usual talent for understatement. Needless to say, this is a big match and the most anticipated men's match of the year so far. You can read Nick Zaccardi's preview here. He picks Djokovic in four sets. I'm inclined to agree.
Djokovic will serve first. Ready? Play.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic and seven-time champion Rafael Nadal will meet in the semifinals of the French Open on Friday. The match is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. ET. The winner plays David Ferrer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Sunday's final.
The French Open is the only Grand Slam tournament that Djokovic has yet to win. He lost to Nadal in last year's final. Nadal has won 12 of their 15 meetings on clay, but Djokovic won the most recent one when he ended the Spaniard's eight-year reign at the Monte Carlo Masters in April.
Djokovic has dropped one set en route to the semifinals, his 12th consecutive appearance in the final four of a major. His victories over seeded players have come against No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 16 Philipp Kohlschreiber and No. 12 Tommy Haas.