Novak Djokovic defeated nine-time champion Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday in 2 hours and 26 minutes on Philippe-Chatrier Court. Novak will play vs Andy Murray in the semifinal on Saturday.
“You prepare for this match in the best possible way tactically, mentally, and to get out there and execute your plan. Obviously it’s easier said than done when you’re on the court with him and on the court that he has only lost once in his entire career,” Djokovic said. “But I managed to do that. Had a very strong start. Except, the second part of the first set and first part of the second, the entire match went really well for me. It’s definitely a big win, a match that I will remember for a long time.”
When Djokovic claimed the second set after wearing Nadal down with a barrage of increasingly-angled off-forehands, it was the first time in history that Nadal had even found himself down two-sets-to-love in the French capital.
That deficit seemed to break his spirit – against the increasingly loose and confident world No.1, Nadal lost the third set in just 33 minutes.
“Right now I’m aware that this is a big win, which I will enjoy tonight,” Djokovic said. “But tomorrow is a new day and I have to move on. It’s only quarter-finals, and I want to fight for the title. That’s what I came here for. I have to kind of direct my thoughts to the semis.”
After the match, Nadal claimed his quarter-final opponent is in the “best state of his career.”
“Well, I probably am,” he said. “Everything is coming together in my life, and I’m experiencing probably the pinnacle of my career, of my life. [I’m a] complete person, very satisfied on and off the court, and I think it all influences the results in my performance.”
In the first four games, the top seed had been playing up on the baseline, hitting crisply and dominating the tempo of rallies. Nadal could not go with him, and a combination of his errors, plus Djokovic’s versatile arsenal of winning weapons, pushed Nole ahead 4-0. Yet Nadal stormed back, cutting down his errors, adding sting to his shots, and benefitting from a dip in Djokovic’s level. Soon 4-0 became 4-4.
No player is harder to put away at Roland-Garros than Nadal. In the Spaniard’s next two service games, Djokovic had a total of five set points, none of which he could convert. During these moments, Nadal invariably landed a first serve to start the rally in an advantageous position. More tellingly was how he saved them – set points two and three were dismissed with winning drop-shots, and the fourth with a challenging overhead winner, just two points after he had botched a similar shot.
Djokovic did extremely well to remain focused and calm as the frustration of missed opportunities mounted. He brought up his sixth set point in the 12th game with a winning smash, and played the ensuing point with a little added desire and intensity – tracking down a ball on the full stretch, he rifled a venomous, dipping forehand at the net-bound Nadal, who erred on the volley.
Coming out on top of that high-quality, 67-minute stanza was crucial for Djokovic. As the second set progressed on serve, you could see the wonders it had done for his confidence – he penetrated the court much more effectively with his groundstrokes than Nadal, and after holding serve in the third game, he had built a 25-10 advantage in winners. Holding with ease as Nadal laboured through his service games, the world No.1 finally broke down his rival in the eighth game; on his second break point, Djokovic outlasted Nadal in an intense rally.
Nadal would fight Djokovic all the way as the Serb served for the set; after misfiring to fall behind in the game, he again tightened his game at the crucial juncture and erased three set points. Djokovic then responded with one of his best plays of the match, daringly serve-and-volleying and playing an exceptional backhand half-volley winner to bring up a third set point. He converted it with that aforementioned series of forehands which eventually extracted a Nadal error.
The Spaniard never recovered. Broken in the opening game, he slumped to a 0-4 deficit as Djokovic grew in potency. Nadal got on the board in the fifth game but it was a mere blip in the third-set narrative; Djokovic hit out relentlessly, holding to love with an overhead winner and then reaching 0-40 in the final game with forceful returning.
Eerily echoing last year’s circumstances, when Djokovic surrendered their final with a double fault, Nadal ended today’s contest in exactly the same way.