“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
— Mark Twain
Rafael Nadal laid to rest all the talk of an end to his reign as the clay-court master stayed on course for a record-extending 22nd men’s Grand Slam title by beating Novak Djokovic 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-6(4) in the French Open quarter-final on Tuesday.
A 13-time champion at Roland Garros, Nadal was gunning for revenge against the world number one who beat him in the semi-finals last year. He arrived in Paris following an injury-hampered preparation and survived a five-set thriller in the previous round against Felix Auger Aliassime. The Spaniard has only lost three matches at the French Open since his first campaign in 2005 and knows every inch of the Philippe Chatrier court, reminding Djokovic exactly why he goes by the King of Clay moniker.
The Serbian has endured a difficult year himself, stuck on 20 Grand Slam titles following his controversial disbarment from the Australian Open over his refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19. And things got worse for the Serbian as Nadal came out swinging and had the defending champion on the ropes.
Djokovic won the 88-minute second set but Nadal drew energy from the partisan crowd to end the match in four sets to set up a meeting with German Alexander Zverev for a place in the final.
Following the match, Nadal insisted that he would never know for sure if any match at Roland Garros would be his last at a place he is adored.
“It’s a very emotional moment for me. Thank you everyone. It’s incredible, the support I get from you. Everyone knows how important it is for me to play here. It’s the most important tournament of my career,” Nadal said on court.
“One of those magic nights for me.”
He also hailed Djokovic as one of the greatest in history and said playing against him was always a challenge.
Nadal didn’t make things easy for himself as he surrendered a 3-0 lead in the second set to allow Djokovic get a foothold in the match. Nadal managed to hold for 4-4 but lost his serve at 5-4 as Djokovic levelled the match.
The Mallorcan started the third set in similar manner as the first and raced into a 4-1 lead before wrapping it up on an unforced error from Djokovic. Djokovic regained the upper hand to open up a 3-0 lead in the fourth set but the Muscles from Mallorca broke back for 4-5 before forcing a tiebreak to take the match and the spot in the semis.
In the post-match interview, Djokovic also hailed his conqueror: “I’m not surprised at all.”
“It’s not the first time that he is able, a few days after he’s injured and barely walking, to come out 100% physically fit.”
With inputs from the Associated Press and Reuters.