Djokovic, Nadal to clash in seismic semi

·3-min read

Novak Djokovic has relived the drama that befell him at the Australian Open, successfully negotiating a pandemic-related match suspension before booking a date with Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-finals.

With Djokovic leading two sets to one and 3-2 against Italian Matteo Berrettini, up to 5,000 fans were enraged to have to leave Roland Garros just before 11pm on Wednesday night as a city-wide curfew began in Paris.

There was a 20-minute delay as both players left the arena and officials eventually emptied Court Philippe Chatrier of disgruntled fans, some of whom were left jeering and shouting "Rip off!"

On resumption, Djokovic, who felt like he'd gone from a Davis Cup-like atmosphere to an empty arena against a ferocious hitter whose comeback had been fuelled by the crowd's noisy support, regrouped to win 6-3 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 and advance to his 40th grand slam semi.

The bizarre occasion reminded the world No.1 of his third round win over Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open in February when the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne had to be vacated in the fourth set as Victoria went into lockdown.

Djokovic won that match too - before going on to take the title - and reckoned he was grateful for the similar break in Paris because he felt he needed "a bit of a reset".

After resuming, Djokovic took a heavy tumble when trying to retrieve a Berrettini forehand but was almost maniacally determined to win, letting out astonishing primal screams once he'd sealed victory on his third match point after almost three-and-a-half hours.

"The reaction was me liberating the tension that was building up the whole match," Djokovic said.

It had been a day when both the world No.1 and Nadal had showcased vulnerability as well as their greatness.

The Spaniard - astonishingly - actually lost a set at Roland Garros while Djokovic blew the chance of a straight-sets win.

Yet by the time the red dust had settled, the two experienced masters had produced enough glorious brush strokes to set up their 58th meeting.

"It's not like any other match," Djokovic said of a showdown with Nadal.

"Just vibes are different walking on the court with him.

"That's why our rivalry has been historic for this sport.

"I'll probably pick Rafa as the biggest rival I've ever had in my career."

Nadal was quite majestic once he'd recovered from the shock of having a set nicked off him at Roland Garros for the first time since 2019, blitzing Diego Schwartzman 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-0.

Djokovic was just as brilliant but the top seed, on the verge of a routine win at 5-4 up in the third-set tiebreaker, suddenly coughed up two feeble netted errors to allow Berrettini, who'd been growing in confidence, to nick the set.

After the delay, though, Djokovic set up a repeat of last year's final, which was won in straight sets by Nadal for his 13th French Open title.

Schwartzman, the diminutive Argentine with a considerable talent and an even bigger heart, could hardly have played better or given any more of himself against Nadal - but was still eventually blown away.

Such are the nature of mini-victories over Nadal that Schwartzman's magnificent performance in ending the Spaniard's run of 36 consecutive winning sets at the Paris major felt almost worthy of a trophy in its own right.

But as he always seems to on clay, Nadal at 4-3 down in the pivotal third set, found another gear, winning the final nine games for the loss of just seven points.

Djokovic is up for the fight, though.

"The quality and the level of tennis I've been playing in the last three, four weeks on clay is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of Friday's match," he said.

"I'm confident. I believe I can win.

"Let's have a great battle."

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