The integrity of Rafa Nadal’s records at Roland Garros was seldom feared. Very few. Robin Soderling in 2009, John Isner in 2011 and Novak Djokovic in 2013 and 2015. And now. They were the only ones to put them in danger or to bring down the king. Djokovic had cherished glory once, eight years ago, and he did it in 2015, but against a Nadal trapped in himself. He needed a great victory against his great rival. A great night to believe that it may be the best in history. And against all odds, in one of the best matches of the decade, collapsed the Balearic, nailed him the third defeat of his career in Paris (3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) and 6-2) and accesses the final that can place him in a Grand Slam of the two colossi.
More than four hours on the track, an attempted French revolution, an exception to the curfew given by Emmanuel Macron and four sets. Nadal fell to Djokovic with honors. The maximums. He yielded like the great king that he is, forcing his rival to play one of the best games of his life and achieve the most important victory of his career.
Only two men in history beat Nadal in Paris and one of them is Djokovic. And that he threatened to repeat the ill-advised final of last year, when Nadal swept him in three sets. The Spaniard, with the morale of having that match fresh in his memory, started 5-0 up, to a game of repeating the donut with which he started in 2020.
But Djokovic proved to have the lesson learned. He squeezed at the end of the set and although he delivered it, because it was an impossible blow, he matched the match at the level of sensations. The breaks were exchanged until the Serb prevailed, breaking a streak of 17 straight sets won by Nadal in the Roland Garros semi-finals. Since 2013, precisely against Djokovic, he did not give up a set in this round.
Breaking that barrier gave the Serbian wings and the third set was one of the best pieces Nadal and Djokovic have ever played. A crossroads of alternatives with a heavenly tennis level which even made viewers wonder if what they were seeing was real. Diego Schwartzman, Nadal’s rival in the quarterfinals, wrote: “Do the rest of us also play this sport?”
In a quarter that lasted more than an hour and a half, Djokovic had a break advantage on two occasions, both solved by Nadal. He served to win the set and was 30-0. It was also deactivated by the Spanish, who tipped the balance and had a ball to get 2-1 up. But the tennis gods wanted a playoff to decide the set. And there the match was also decided.
Djokovic, always ahead, took advantage of his first set ball, took the ‘tie break’ and left Nadal exhausted, who died fighting. Despite Djokovic’s clear superiority both physically and tennis, Nadal threatened to force the fifth. He went 2-0 up, but succumbed to a surreal level from Djokovic. The hegemony died before a Djokovic who celebrated it without being altered. Without being aware that he had just overcome the most difficult challenge in the history of sport. He had beaten Nadal at Roland Garros and he had done it in a crossroads of plenitude. The most important match of his career next to the Wimbledon 2019 final. The match that can give him the nineteenth Grand Slam, placing him only one of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, who delivered the crown, but not the honor.