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How Nadal Beat Djokovic In The Roland Garros Semi-Finals

Paris, France

Nadal© AFP/Getty ImagesRafael Nadal celebrates beating Novak Djokovic for the 20th time on Friday in Paris.

Third seed and seven-time champion Rafael Nadal earned a memorable 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7 win against top seed Novak Djokovic on Friday in their Roland Garros semi-final. 

Nadal now has a 58-1 match record at Roland Garros. On Sunday, the 27-year-old Spaniard will appear in the ninth final of his ninth tournament since his comeback from a knee injury in early February. looks at how the match was won with set-by-set analysis.

Djokovic-Nadal: The Rivalry | TV Schedule

The battle for baseline supremacy started immediately. Nadal continued his traditional ploy of returning serve from deep, but Djokovic appeared to step in on Nadal’s second delivery. Nadal toughed out his opening service game, but Djokovic had the better of the early exchanges – particularly in backhand rallies. 

Both players came through the first six games unscathed with a series of winners and great creativity. But after 37 minutes of play, Djokovic slipped out wide and it appeared to throw him off his rhythm. Nadal went on to create the first break point opportunity of the match. Djokovic held his nerve, delivering a service winner but Nadal took a 4-3 lead on his third chance. He confirmed the break with a hold to love. 

Interestingly, in 29 of their 34 FedEx ATP Head2Head clashes, the player who had won the first set went on to win the match. Nadal hit 13 winners and 80 per cent of his first service points in the 54-minute set. Several of Djokovic's 14 unforced errors came late on, as Nadal upped the ante.

Nadal, although not at the peak of his form, grew in stature as Djokovic showed his frustration early in the second set. He struggled with his service rhythm and appeared to be hesitant on his backhand wing, often muttering to himself at the end of each rally. Having led 30/0 at 2-2, Djokovic lost four straight points as Nadal sealed the break with a backhand pass down the line off a drop shot. The landscape of the set quickly changed, just as the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd thought Nadal was in the ascendency. 

At 3-2, the Spaniard committed three errors to let Djokovic, who had been tentative, back in the set. Djokovic sealed his third break point opportunity and built on the momentum. At 3-4, deuce, Nadal hit a double fault – just his eighth of the tournament – and on break point it was Djokovic who took advantage with two blistering forehands that left Nadal standing. Djokovic continued to off-load on his forehand and clinched the set 6-4, with a hold to 30, when a forehand bounced badly. Djokovic capitalised on Nadal winning 36 per cent of his second service points.

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The first point of the third set lasted 21 strokes. It encapsulated the greatness of both players: their retrieving skills, defence and counter-attacking abilities. Nadal won it by rolling a backhand crosscourt past Djokovic, who appeared set to win the point at the net. Djokovic had the momentum, having won four straight games, but Nadal battled to break the streak with a hold to 30. 

It started a run of five straight games for the Mallorcan. At 0-5, 15/40, Djokovic saved two set points, but it delayed the inevitable. Nadal received a one-point penalty at 5-1, 40/0, when he took more than 20 seconds between points. He clinched the set seconds later when Djokovic hit a backhand long - his 13th of the set. The World No. 1 won 12 points in the third set.

Djokovic experienced a resurgence in the fourth set. Initially, it was fleeting as Nadal gained control of the baseline, developing points off his forehand. In the seventh game, Djokovic dropped to 15/40. It felt like match points. Djokovic saved the first break point with a big forehand winner into space, but he committed a forehand error on the next point to hand Nadal the game. 

DjokovicThen, out of nowhere, Djokovic’s fighting powers re-emerged. Moving quickly up the court for the short ball and striking his groundstrokes cleanly, it left Nadal shaken. With memories of his Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters final loss fresh in the mind, Nadal definitely felt the tension. At 4-3, Nadal committed a backhand error at 15/40 to let Djokovic back in. 

In the 11th game, Nadal dug in and wore down Djokovic, who made two successive backhand errors to hand his opponent the break.  At 6-5, Nadal came within two points of his eighth final when he led 30/15 on serve. But Djokovic broke back with a winner off his forehand, his reliable weapon. A tie-break decided the set.

As the wind picked up, Djokovic won four of the first five points in the tie-break. Nadal got back to 3-4, but Djokovic won three straight points, finishing the 58-minute set with a crosscourt forehand to Nadal’s feet. 

Any physical discomfort Djokovic experienced in the third set had disappeared by the start of the decider, which became another battle of tactical dominance. For the third time in the match, Nadal lost his serve at the President Box end. Djokovic was then forced to save one break point opportunity en route to a 2-0 lead. He went on to push for a 4-1 advantage, but Nadal got out of trouble with three winners that cleaned the lines. Nadal's fighting qualities kept him in touch, but Djokovic held the psychological edge after the early break.

DjokovicIn an extraordinary eighth game, when Djokovic fought back from 0/30, 30/40 and a second break point, he recovered. But, incredibly, at the third deuce, when he struck a smash winner, Djokovic lost his balance and fell into the net. Because the shot - going for a winner - had not yet bounced twice, Nadal earned the break point. Djokovic saved it, but two points later hit a forehand into the net to let Nadal back in the match at 4-4. Nadal, somehow, found a way to stay in contention and won his third straight game with a hold to 15.  

For so long the match had failed to live up to expectations, but in the fourth and fifth sets it had become a mental struggle between two great champions. Both Djokovic and Nadal, two of the best servers on the ATP World Tour in 2013, changed their service patterns – Djokovic no longer serving out wide in the deuce court and Nadal hitting down the middle in the Ad court – as the set went beyond 6-all.  At the change of ends at 7-8, Djokovic complained about the dry state of the court behind the baseline. When he stepped out to serve, he lost confidence – particularly in his smash – and Nadal won four straight points to win the 87-minute set and record a famous victory. It broke a four-match winning streak for Djokovic against opponents in the Top 4 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.

The match ended after four hours and 37 minutes. It was one of the great days at Roland Garros, where temperatures had peaked at 27°C (80.3° Fahrenheit) in Paris. The second semi-final between fourth seed David Ferrer against French hope and sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was still to come.

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