Novak Djokovic has played countless classics during his illustrious career, and the World No. 1 put his four-set semi-final victory against 13-time champion Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros on Friday near the very top.
“[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,” Djokovic said. “[That is] considering 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.”
Djokovic Dethrones Nadal After Roland Garos Epic
The 2016 champion knew the challenge in front of him when he stepped onto Court Philippe-Chatrier. After beating Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals, the Serbian said facing Nadal here is “not like any other match. Let’s face it, it’s the biggest challenge that you can have: playing on clay against Nadal, on this court on which he has had so much success in his career.” Yet Djokovic attacked the test and passed with flying colours, handing the third seed his third loss at this event (105-3).
“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 of 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.
“I [had] won only once in our eight matches that we ever played on Chatrier here [at] Roland Garros. I tried to take some positives and some cues from that match in 2015 that I won against him to implement tonight, which worked out very nicely.
“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.”
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Not only was this a classic match, but it felt like a major final. The only problem for Djokovic is that he spent four hours and 11 minutes to claw past Nadal, and he still has another match in front of him against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who defeated sixth seed Alexander Zverev in five sets earlier in the day.
Djokovic can become the first player in the Open Era to win the Australian Open-Roland Garros double twice (also 2016), which would keep his hopes of a calendar-year Grand Slam alive. He can also become the first player in the Open Era to claim all four major trophies twice.
“It’s not the first time that I’ve played an epic semi-final in a Grand Slam and then I have to come back in less than 48 hours and play the final. My recovery abilities [have been] pretty good, I must say, throughout my career,” Djokovic said. “Obviously my physiotherapist will try to do everything possible so I can be fresh. Because I played enough tennis, I don’t need to train too much. It’s really now just about taking things slowly until the day of the final.”
One major advantage Djokovic has is that he has been here several times before. The 18-time Grand Slam champion has competed in 28 major finals. This will be Tsitsipas’ first shot at Slam glory.
“I know what I need to do. Obviously Tsitsipas, [it is his] first time in the final of a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “For him it’s a great achievement, but I’m sure he doesn’t want to stop there. He’s in great form. I think he leads [the FedEx ATP Race To Turin] this year. He’s had his best results overall. I think he matured as a player a lot. Clay arguably is his best surface.
“We played an epic five-setter last year in the semis here. I know it’s going to be another tough one. I’m hoping I can recharge my batteries as much as I can because I’m going to need some power and energy for that one.”
As Djokovic rests, he will take some time to think about what he accomplished Friday evening. It’s not very often someone beats Nadal at Roland Garros in front of a raucous crowd. The Serbian said this match won’t soon slip from his memory bank.
“[It was] just one of these nights and matches that you will remember forever.”