Rafael Nadal’s dominance on clay continues with epic French Open win over Novak Djokovic | French Open 2022

Rafael Nadal’s dominance on clay continues with epic French Open win over Novak Djokovic | French Open 2022

As the two biggest rivals in men’s tennis met once again at Roland Garros, many factors argued in favor of Novak Djokovic. While he and Rafael Nadal had arrived in the clay-court season full of uncertainties, only Djokovic had made notable steps forward since. Nadal, meanwhile, was still looking for his best form after his fractured rib. His preparation was complicated with a flare-up from his chronic foot injury. His form in Paris was, so far, below normal.

But it’s Raphael Nadal. At Roland Garros. He’s the man who has won 110 times at home with just three losses, who has shown in his 17 years there that form and other frivolous trivia have little relevance in the face of total and unprecedented dominance. In a game that started in May and ended in June, Nadal blasted Djokovic in the early stages, then absorbed several strong fightbacks and immense pressure before winning 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 , 7-6 (4 ) after four hours and 11 minutes at 1:15 a.m. local time.

“It was a very difficult game,” Nadal said. “Novak is without a doubt one of the best players in history. Always playing against him is an incredible challenge. The whole story that we have together today was another.

In the 59th meeting of the historic rivalry that never ends, Nadal goes 29-30 against Djokovic in their head-to-head. He will face Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals, who played the best Grand Slam match of his career as he passed an often erratic Carlos Alcarazdrowning out the surrounding hype as they won 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7).

Nadal arrived on his court and set the tone early on, forcing his way inside the baseline and looking to unload on his forehand down the line, the historic barometer of his confidence. In the many close first matches, Nadal broke Djokovic’s serve in the opener after several deuces. While a sublime Nadal paraded in the first set, Djokovic struggled. His backhand sprayed unusual unforced errors, missed returns he struggled to follow and Nadal established a 6-2, 3-0 lead with a double break.

It was only a matter of time before Djokovic asserted himself, and that’s when he did. He mowed down Nadal’s serve with his return and slowly moved over the baseline as he dictated the rallies, smashing the ball in and rushing Nadal’s forehand. He won six of the next seven games to tie the game, but they were won thanks to an interminable and brutal series of two-legged matches over an 88-minute set.

Djokovic stretches to play a forehand in the quarter-final against Nadal.
Djokovic stretches to play a forehand in the quarter-final against Nadal. Photography: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Djokovic’s level rose sharply, but it didn’t last. Nadal opened the third set continuously looking for the net and he dominated an inferior Djokovic during the set. But the momentum only continued to waver. Djokovic recalled his serve return and as he broke serve in Nadal’s first service game in the fourth, he was back on top of the baseline again, putting constant pressure on Nadal and presenting himself with a chance to serve the set. He was leading 5-2, but Nadal charged in, saving two set points at 5-3 and then nailing a reverse forehand to break.

At the start of the fourth set tiebreak, Nadal soared. He was timing his forehand better on the line than at any time since the first set. He nailed three straight forehands to start the tiebreaker and with each point the task before Djokovic grew darker and darker. The No.1 salvaged three match points from 1-6 but his time at Nadal this year ended with a thunderous punch to the Spaniard’s racket.

“To win against Novak, there is only one way: to play at your best from the first point to the last. Today was one of those nights for me. An unexpected level but I’m super happy,” said Nadal.

Afterwards, Djokovic conceded he was second best on the day: “I know I could have played better,” he said. “I’m proud to fight and to have stayed until the last blow. Like I said, you know, I lost to a better player today. I had my chances. I haven’t used them. That’s it. More than four hours of battle, and I have to accept this defeat.

Throughout the week, Nadal suggested that this French Open could well be his last given his chronic foot injury, and he navigates this Open de France with an additional emotion: “I simply take advantage of each day that I have the chance to be here, and without thinking too much about what that may happen in the future,” he said. “Of course, I will continue to fight to find a solution to [the foot], but so far we haven’t. So giving me a chance to play another semi-final here at Roland Garros is a lot of energy for me.

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