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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

French Open: Nadal concedes ‘best player won’, Djokovic says ‘I’ll remember this forever’

It was only 13-time champion Nadal's third defeat here since his debut in 2005 and the first time in 115 best-of-five-set matches on clay that he had lost after taking the opening set.

By: Reuters | Paris |
Updated: June 12, 2021 2:08:53 pm
NadalDjokovic, French Open semi finalSerbia's Novak Djokovic shakes hands with Spain's Rafael Nadal after winning their semi final match REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Rafael Nadal was his usual gracious self despite suffering his first defeat at Roland Garros since 2015 as he went out to world number one Novak Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals on Friday, saying his opponent had deserved his victory.

It was only 13-time champion Nadal’s third defeat here since his debut in 2005 and the first time in 115 best-of-five-set matches on clay that he had lost after taking the opening set.

With the temperature dropping as the sun started to set, Nadal’s usually devastating top spin was less effective and top seed Djokovic started an unlikely comeback after losing the first five games to win 3-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2.

“It is true that probably the conditions were a little bit slower later on. We had been playing (in) very warm (weather) and high bounces,” Nadal told a news conference.

“During the night the situation goes a little bit the other way, no? So (the ball) bounces a little bit less. The ball gets less top spin. That’s more favourable to him, the conditions.

“But it doesn’t matter. That’s tennis. The player who gets used to the conditions better is the player who deserves to win. So no doubt he deserved to win,” added the Spaniard.

Third seed Nadal also admitted it was not his day despite a super fast start, which somehow left Djokovic unfazed.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I tried to give my best. Probably it was not my best day out there. Even if I fought, that I put a lot of effort (in), I mean, the position on the shots hasn’t been that effective tonight,” he said.

“Against a player like him who takes the ball early, you’re not able to take him out of his positions. Then it is very difficult.

“Even like this, I had the big chance with set point, 6-5, second serve. That’s it. Anything could happen in that moment.

“These kind of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can’t make these mistakes. So that’s it.

“Well done for him. It has been a good fight out there. I tried my best and today was not my day.”

I’ll remember this forever, says Djokovic after toppling Nadal

World number one Novak Djokovic said his win over Rafa Nadal in Friday’s epic French Open semi-final was one of the top three matches he had played and he would remember it forever.

He will now face Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final, where he will seek a second French Open title and a 19th Grand Slam title in total — to move one behind the men’s record haul held by Nadal and Roger Federer.

“Definitely the best match that I was part of at Roland Garros, and top three matches that I ever played in my entire career,” Djokovic told reporters after inflicting only a third ever French Open defeat on 13-time champion Nadal.

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“Considering the 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 last 15-plus years, and the atmosphere which was completely electric.

“One of these nights and matches you will remember forever.”

The omens did not look good for Djokovic when he went 5-0 down in the first set despite playing well. It had horrible similarities to last year’s final which he lost to the Spaniard 6-0 6-2 7-5, only this time he wrenched back control.

“The beginning of the match was kind of resembling last year’s final,” Djokovic, who enjoyed loud support throughout the four-hour contest, said.

“I was not too nervous though even if I was 0-5 down because the feeling was different from last year’s final, because I was just hitting the ball better and feeling better overall.

“I just kind of found my rhythm, found my groove. There was no looking back. Even though I lost the first set, I found my game. Things started to work out really nicely.”

FRESHEST GUY

Even for a man of Djokovic’s physical and mental resources, the emotions of Friday’s win might leave a hangover and he will be fully aware that the last time he beat Nadal at the French Open in 2015, he ended up losing the final to Stan Wawrinka.

“I’m not the freshest guy right now obviously. But the good thing is that I have a day and a half to rejuvenate,” he said.

“I’ll enjoy this victory a little bit. I think I deserve after this big win to just relax a little bit without thinking about the next opponent, even though it’s a Grand Slam final.”

Highlights:

Djokovic saved a set point at 5-6 in a pivotal third set full of spellbinding rallies before taking the tiebreak. He then reeled off the last six games of the match to take his record over career-long rival Nadal to 30-28.

Incredibly, Djokovic is the first player in 116 matches to beat Nadal in best-of-five sets on clay after losing the opener.

Asked what it meant to beat Nadal at a Grand Slam he has owned almost exclusively since 2005, Djokovic said it was difficult to put into words.

“I mean, he has been the most dominant player of the Roland Garros history. He lost two, now three times, in his entire career here,” world number one Djokovic said.

“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 kind of climb Mount Everest to win.

“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, the occasion was very special.”

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