One of the top three matches I’ve ever played: Novak Djokovic on beating Rafael Nadal

In front of a raucous crowd, the Word No.1 clawed back from a set down to upset the King of Clay in a high-octane Roland Garros semifinal.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic shake hands after their epic semifinal in 2021; Credit: [email protected]

From the minute the draw was made in Paris, the tennis fans were eagerly awaiting this mouth-watering semifinal. It arrived on Friday and did not fail to disappoint the fans. Rafael Nadal, 13-time French Open champion, was the clear favourite against Novak Djokovic. He started as a favourite, easing his way to the first set, but there was a sudden shift in momentum after that set. The World No. 1 fought back impressively, to win the next three sets in a pulsating clash to reach the final of Roland Garros. After the match, Djokovic rated this victory as one of the best of his career.

“[It was] definitely the best match that I was ever part of [at] Roland Garros, and [it was among the] top three matches that I’ve ever played in my entire career,” Djokovic said. “[That is] considering quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force in the past 15-plus years, and the atmosphere, which was completely electric. For both players, [we had] a lot of support. Just amazing.”

The Serbian felt that beating Nadal in Paris is similar to climbing Mount Everest. “It’s hard to find words bigger than all the superlatives you can think of for Rafa’s achievements [at] Roland Garros. He has been the most dominant player of Roland Garros history. He lost [here] two, now three times, in his entire career,” Djokovic said.

“He’s been playing here almost 20 years. That achievement speaks for itself. The amount of wins that he has made on this court is incredible. Each time you step on the court with him, you know that you have to climb Mount Everest to win against this guy here.”

Djokovic takes cues from his earlier win

The Serbian, who has beaten Nadal once before in French Open, said that he took whatever positives he could from that match to prepare for the special night on Friday. “I [had] won only once in our eight matches that we ever played on Chatrier here [at] Roland Garros,” he added.

“I tried to take some positives and some cues from that match in 2015 that I won against him to implement tonight, which worked out very nicely. But it’s just one of these matches that I really will remember for a very long time, not just because I won the match, but because of the atmosphere and just the occasion was very special.”

It’s not often that someone beats Nadal at Roland Garros and the Serbian, who made the impossible possible, said it will stay in his mind for a long time. “[It was] just one of these nights and matches that you will remember forever,” he added.

Djokovic spent four hours and 11 minutes to edge past Nadal on Friday. On Sunday, he still has another important match in front of him against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas for the French Open title.

“It’s not the first time that I’ve played an epic semi-final in a Grand Slam and then I have to come back in less than 48 hours and play the final. My recovery abilities [have been] pretty good, I must say, throughout my career,” Djokovic said. “Obviously my physiotherapist will try to do everything possible so I can be fresh. Because I played enough tennis, I don’t need to train too much. It’s really now just about taking things slowly until the day of the final.”

Sportslumo Desk

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