In one of the most anticipated matches of the year, Rafael Nadal proved he’s still the undisputed King of Clay today outlasting and outplaying rival Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7 in a 4 hour, 37 minute epic today in the French Open semifinals.
In this rematch of the 2012 final, both players entered the match playing pretty good tennis. Nadal, who is seeking an unprecedented eighth French Open title, broke mid-way through the first set to seize control.
Djokovic managed to rebound in the second, overcoming a break deficit then ran away with the set.
Nadal regained his composure in the third pummeling a disheartened Djokovic going up 5-0 before finally losing a game.
Things got real interesting in the two final sets. Rafa broke early in the fourth and seemed to have the match in hand. Djokovic broke back to even before Rafa went up again and served 6-5, 30-15. But Nadal couldn’t maintain the lead, Djokovic re-broke and took the breaker decisively.
With the stakes heightened and Nadal in some distress, this time Djokovic broke early in the fifth but after a furious rall,y Rafa, who was playing his first 5 set match in 11 months, got back to level. After some tense tennis, Nadal finally broke Djokovic at love to put himself in his 8th French Open final.
“This was a really emotional match, that’s the truth,” said Nadal. “I lost a match like this in Australia. This one was for me. I’m more than happy about the way I fought in the fifth, after losing a big chance in the fourth. Djokovic always comes back. [To win a match like this] you need to love the game. You need to love what you are doing and appreciate every moment.
“I have learned to enjoy suffering in these matches, because what is much harder is to be [injured] at home in Mallorca, watching these matches on TV.”
Nadal has won 58 of 59 matches at the French Open and his last 26 since losing to Robin Soderling in 2009. Nadal also has now reached all nine events he’s played this year. A remakrable effort considering the 27-year-old spent the last half of 2012 mending a knee.
The Australian Open champion Djokovic will have to wait another year to capture the elusive career Grand Slam. And if Nadal goes on to win the title he’ll have a lot of work to do to finish No. 1.
Afterward, Djokovic was upset that the referee wouldn’t water the court in the 15th game of the fifth set, just before he was broken for the match.
“[Nadal] showed courage in the right moments and went for his shots,” Novak said. “That’s why he’s a champion, and why he’s ruled Roland Garros for so many years. In my opinion, the court was too slippery. I asked for it to be watered. It was difficult to change direction. I just don’t understand. I think that it’s wrong, what they did.
“I wanted this title so much, so I am disappointed. It’s not the end of the world. The feeling is not great at the moment, but I have years in front of me. I will come back, and I will keep on trying to win it.”
Awaiting Nadal in the final is countryman David Ferrer. The fourth-seeded Ferrer, a five-time loser in Grand Slam semifinal play, smashed a listless Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 6-1, 7-6, 6-3 for his biggest career win.
Playing in his 42nd career Grand Slam, the 31-year-old Ferrer is in his first Major final. And he’ll be the big underdog against his national star.
“I’m very, very happy. This tournament is very special for me and to be the first final of Grand Slam in Roland Garros is amazing,” said Ferrer. “Now I want to enjoy this moment, to rest tomorrow, and to try my best in the final.”
Tsonga, who had not dropped a set all tournament including an impressive win over Roger Federer in the quarters, didn’t have much to offer Ferrer in his third loss in four meetings.
“My opponent didn’t make a lot of mistakes, unlike Roger Federer in my last match,” said Tsonga. “The plan was to be aggressive and control the baseline, but he defended well and I felt like I always had to play the perfect shot to put him out of position. He was even faster than usual, destabilising me. Maybe in a few hours or a few days I will think it was a good tournament because I reached the semis, but for now I’m just disappointed.”
Nadal has beaten Ferrer 19 of 23 times including eight straight (three this year). Ferrer was able to managed a set in their last two meetings at Rome and Madrid where he really pressed Rafa.
It’s also the fourth all-Spanish Grand Slam final in the Open Era, the most recent since the 2002 French final won by Albert Costa over Juan Carlos Ferrero.
If Nadal wins he will tie Roy Emerson with 12 Grand Slam titles, which will also put him five behind all-time leader Roger Federer and two from Pete Sampras.
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