French Open's 'exceptional' Covid backflip amid staggering scenes

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Pictured here, Novak Djokovic looks to the sky as Rafael Nadal makes his French Open exit.
Novak Djokovic's semi-final against Rafael Nadal was so epic that France suspended an 11pm curfew so fans could stay and watch. Pic: Getty

Novak Djokovic's French Open semi-final victory over Rafael Nadal was so good that officials decided to suspend the controversial Covid-19 curfew in Paris.

In what is widely being described as one of the greatest tennis matches ever played, World No.1 Djokovic triumphed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 to end 13-time champion Nadal's French Open dominance.

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Djokovic's win saw him remain on course to capture a 19th major title and become the first man in over 50 years to win all four slams twice.

The Serb can accomplish the incredible feat if he's successful in the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Alexander Zverev in five sets to become Greece's first grand slam finalist.

Djokovic's victory was extraordinary on a number of different levels, not the least of which was the decision to allow fans to watch it well past the 11pm curfew in Paris.

The Covid-19 curfew in France has led to farcical scenes throughout the tournament as fans have been ushered out of the stands midway through matches.

Fortunately for those lucky 5000 spectators inside Court Philippe Chatrier for Djokovic's epic win over Nadal, the 9pm curfew that had been in place for the majority of the tournament had been extended to 11pm local time.

However, it still meant fans faced the threat of being kicked out of Roland Garros before one of the greatest matches to ever unfold there had ended.

After a third set that lasted more than 90 minutes before Djokovic win in a tiebreak, French Open officials were faced with a dilemma around the unpopular curfew.

Boos could be heard ringing out as one of the organisers began addressing the crowd on the PA, only to be replaced with raucous cheers as it was revealed that officials had decided to relax the curfew and allow fans to stay and watch due to the "exceptional" nature of the contest.

"In agreement with the national authorities, the match will come to an end in your presence," a stadium announcer explained to the delight of fans.

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Djokovic - who became the first man to beat Nadal twice at Roland Garros - was full of praise for an opponent who has now only lost three times at the French Open in 108 matches.

World No.1 praises beaten rival

"It's hard to find words bigger than all the superlatives you can think of for Rafa's achievements in Roland Garros," the World No.1 said after the gripping spectacle that lasted more than four hours.

"Definitely the best match I was part of ever in Roland Garros and one of top three matches I ever played in my entire career, considering the quality, playing my biggest rival on the court where he's had so much success and been the dominant force in the last 15-plus years.

"The amount of wins that he has made on this court (Philippe Chatrier) is incredible. Each time you step on the court with him, you know you have to kind of climb Mount Everest to win against this guy here.

"I mean, he has been the most dominant player of the Roland Garros history. He lost two - now three times - in his entire career. He's been playing here almost 20 years. That achievement speaks for itself.

"I won only once in our eight matches that we ever played in Chatrier. It's a match I'll always remember."

Seen here, Novak Djokovic celebrates his epic win against Rafael Nadal at the French Open.
Tennis fans are hailing Novak Djokovic as the greatest player of all time after his epic win against Rafael Nadal at the French Open. Pic: Getty

Nadal, who had a chance to win a 14th French Open title and record-breaking 21st major of his career, refused to dwell on the consequences of the defeat.

"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," said 35-year-old Nadal.

"If everything goes well, tomorrow I will be at home with my family and friends, and then we will see what is next."

Nadal said he plans to be back in 2022 although admitting that time is not on his side if he wants to re-establish his Paris dominance.

Had he made Sunday's championship match, he would have been the oldest Roland Garros finalist in the modern era.

"Although it is a very important tournament for me, I am aware that you cannot win it 15 or 16 times," he added.

"Next year I will come again, God willing, with the belief and with the necessary work to be able to give myself another chance."

Djokovic lifts after slow start

In their 58th career meeting, and ninth at the French Open, Nadal had looked comfortably on course for victory when he raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set.

But 2016 champion Djokovic, the man now responsible for two of Nadal's losses in Paris having also triumphed in the 2015 quarter-finals, hit back.

As the match progressed into the later heavier, humid and slower conditions, the Serbian star flourished.

He claimed a titanic 92-minute third set which had seen him serve for it at 5-4 and then have to save a set point in the 12th game.

In the fourth set, he was 0-2 down before racing away with the next six games for his second win in Paris over Nadal in nine meetings.

That sequence also included defeats in the 2012, 2014 and 2020 finals.

Djokovic will now be playing in his sixth Roland Garros final and 29th at the slams.

The World No.1 faces Greece's Tsitsipas, who survived a comeback from Alexander Zverev to win a five-set thriller, 6-3 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-3.

with AAP

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