Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal in French Open thriller to reach final

  • Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the third set against Spain’s Rafael Nadal during their semifinal match of the French Open at the Roland Garros stadium Friday in Paris. AP

  • Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates winning a point as he plays Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus

  • Spain's Rafael Nadal, right, plays Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 at sunset in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece celebrates as he defeats Germany's Alexander Zverev during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, left, hugs Germany's Alexander Zverev after their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. Tsitsipas won 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Serbia's Novak Djokovic wipes his face as he plays Spain's Rafael Nadal during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Spain’s Rafael Nadal reacts as he plays Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during their semifinal of the French Open at the Roland Garros stadium Friday in Paris. AP

  • Spain's Rafael Nadal, right, and Serbia's Novak Djokovic drink during a break in their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Spain's Rafael Nadal reaches the ball as he plays Serbia's Novak Djokovic rduring their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Serbia's Novak Djokovic gestures as he plays Spain's Rafael Nadal during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Spain's Rafael Nadal clenches his fist as he plays Serbia's Novak Djokovic rduring their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Serbia's Novak Djokovic stretches to return the ball to Spain's Rafael Nadal during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates a winning point as he plays Spain's Rafael Nadal during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Spectators watch Serbia's Novak Djokovic against Spain's Rafael Nadal during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus

  • Spectators react as Serbia's Novak Djokovic plays Spain's Rafael Nadal during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

  • Spain's Rafael Nadal shouts as he plays Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Friday, June 11, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Michel Euler

Associated Press
Published: 6/11/2021 9:38:19 PM

PARIS — Novak Djokovic stopped Rafael Nadal’s bid for a 14th French Open title and handed the King of Clay just his third loss in 108 matches at the tournament by coming back to win their thriller of a semifinal 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 on Friday night.

Terrific as the play was for most of the four hours, the match ended with a bit of a whimper: Djokovic grabbed the last six games.

So Djokovic will be seeking his second trophy at Roland Garros and a 19th major championship overall when he plays in Sunday’s final.

“Just one of these nights and matches that you will remember forever,” said the top-seeded Djokovic, who trailed 2-0 in the closing set before reeling off the last half-dozen games to reach his sixth final at the clay-court major tournament.

The top-seeded Djokovic’s opponent will be fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas.

It will be the 29th career Grand Slam final for Djokovic, and the first for Tsitsipas. Tsitsipas beat Alexander Zverev in the semifinals.

Nadal had won the past four titles in Paris, part of his collection of 20 Slams, tied with Roger Federer for the most by a man in tennis history.

The 35-year-old Spaniard is 105-3 for his career — and Djokovic is responsible for two of those defeats.

“Each time you step on the court with him," Djokovic said, "you know that you have to kind of climb Mt. Everest to win against this guy here.”

The masterpiece of a third set lasted 1 hour, 33 minutes alone, and an 11 p.m. nationwide curfew in place because of COVID-19 was approaching. Djokovic’s previous match had been delayed more than 20 minutes while the audience — limited to 5,000 people under coronavirus restrictions — was cleared out of the stadium, but an announcement was made Friday to let everyone know they would be allowed to stay until the end of the match.

Earlier chants in French of “We won’t leave! We won’t leave!” were replaced by choruses of the national anthem and cheers of thanks for President Emmanuel Macron.

Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia, will face Tsitsipas, a 22-year-old from Greece, who edged Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3.

Tsitsipas already had given away all of a two-set lead in his semifinal earlier Friday when he double-faulted to trail love-40 in the opening game of the fifth. But Tsitsipas steeled himself to win five consecutive points, including one with a cross-court forehand passing shot he celebrated by shaking his racket as the crowd chanted his last name.

That hold pushed the No. 5-seeded Tsitsipas back in the right direction.

“I’m someone who fights. I was not willing to give up yet. I think I did few things right that worked in my favor,” said Tsitsipas, who entered the day 0-3 in major semifinals.

“It was a breath of fresh air, that first game,” he said. “I felt revitalized.”

Tsitsipas broke to go up 3-1 in the fifth with plenty of help from Zverev, who double-faulted and flubbed a trio of groundstrokes. Eventually, Tsitsipas served out the biggest win of his career, ending it after more than 3½ hours on his fifth match point.

“It was a match full of emotions, full of so many different phases that I went through,” Tsitsipas said. “So at the end, it was just such a big relief I was able to close it in such a good way. It was just exhausting.”




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