“Life goes on. After all, it’s a game of tennis.”
That’s what Rafael Nadal said after losing a thriller to Novak Djokovic at the French Open — the King of Clay’s third loss in 108 matches at the tournament. Meanwhile, Djokovic said beating Nadal in clay was almost like climbing Mount Everest.
“I am sad to have lost in the most important tournament of the year for me, but life goes on, it is nothing more than a defeat on a tennis court. If everything goes well, tomorrow I will be at home with my family and friends, and then we will see what is next. Although it is a very important tournament for me, I am aware that you cannot win it 15 or 16 times,” Nadal told AP.
Djokovic beat Nadal in a humdinger of a semifinal 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 on Friday.
“It probably was not my best day out there. Even if I fought, I put a lot of effort, the position on the shots was not that effective tonight. Against a player like him who takes the ball early, you are not able to take him out of his positions, then it is very difficult. It was amazing, the support. I can’t thank enough for the feelings. I have been super tired some moments, but the crowd gave me some energy to keep going. It’s super emotional for me to feel the love of the people in the most important place of my tennis career, without a doubt. So thanks a lot to them,” he was quoted as saying on ATP Tour website.
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.
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. The masterpiece of a third set lasted 1 hour, 33 minutes alone, and an 11 pm nationwide curfew in place.
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 will face Tsitsipas, a 22-year-old from Greece, who edged Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3. “I am someone who fights. I was not willing to give up yet. I think I did few things right that worked in my favour,” said Tsitsipas.
What Djokovic said after the match
“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. That is considering the 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. 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,” Djokovic was quoted as saying on ATP Tour website.
Djokovic said the win was almost akin to climbing the 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 in 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 told ATP Tour website.