PARIS.- Raphael Nadal, this man who will be 36 years old on Friday, does not give up. He is driven by his passion for competition, the thirst for glory, the desire to conquer Roland Garros again, this tournament to which he seems to have linked his destiny. Nadal fights on despite injuries; of the Müller-Weiss syndrome, of this chronic injury to the left foot which risks pushing him sooner or later to the door of farewell. But, now, his voracity to compete pushes him to continue. You can’t with him either. Novak Djokovic, another court giant. Nadal is there, victorious, over the brick dust that has seen him win more than a hundred times. Once again, in the semi-finals of Roland-Garros. Your tournament. The one who has won 13 times, the one who wants to conquer for the 14th time. You are only two steps away from achieving it.
“This may be my last match at Roland Garros,” he said a few days ago, when he asked to play in the day against Djokovic. The organization ignored him and sent him to the night session against the world number 1. This circumstance also did not stop the left-hander from Manacor, who celebrated another imposing victory: 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 and 7-6 (7-4) over the Serb, in a fight of 4 hours and 12 minutes. , last a long time at 1 am under the Parisian freshness, by a night of bags, jackets and liters of coffee. There’s Rafa, grinning from ear to ear. Nothing makes him happier than competition. And if he did, in another fight in his style.
Has been a clash of planets that could have happened next Sunday, during the final. But he played much earlier, in the quarter-finals. On Tuesday, the French Open went ahead without Djokovic; also without Carlos Alcaraz, the young promise who threatened to break the ceiling of old legends. Nadal continues, who will face in the semi-final the German Alexander Zverev.
But, now, Nadal relishes his victory in the 59th chapter of his rivalry with Djokovic. A very equal duel in history, now favorable at least to the Serb (30-29). This is the tenth passage on the orange ground of Roland Garros, with here an advantage for Rafa (8-2). This time, it was an impulse that had it all. Short points, very long rallies, 18-minute games, game-winning touches and bombings, rounds of applause and dismal mistakes. Each of the 278 points contested in the epic Chatrier night was a world. In the stands, crazy: a Spanish fan with trumpets, bullfighting music and the comic introduction of Locos Adams at each break. Constant cries of encouragement. “I-de-mo!” (“Let’s go!” in Serbian) is the impulse of Nole’s supporters. A duel that oscillated between a thriller and a series of the old Davis Cup. Intense like few others, always captivating.
With the night conditions (cold and humidity), it seemed that Nadal’s game was going to hurt less for this Djokovic who arrived without dropping sets until the quarter-finals. But Rafa, from the first point, warned that this match would not look like this defeat which had hurt him so much in the semi-finals last year. The southpaw was able to press with elaborate openings, with great effect, to send Djokovic against the bottom line. Drowned, the Serb could not take the initiative. He trailed 6-2, 3-0. The world number 1 resisted, while groping in the dark, looking for a door to get out of the seat and into the game. The Beast was cowardly. It was a Nadal symphony at full volume. But the Spaniard lowered the intensity a bit, and started playing a bit shorter. Djokovic saw the light at the bottom of the tunnel and clung to everything. He started to win one point, another. He obtained a break in an eternal sixth game of 18 minutes and 20 points to equalize the account (3-3) in the second set. Pressed in this section, Nadal could not follow and the Balkan managed to equalize the result.
With 59 games to go, they both know each other too well. After the break, Rafa came back in a storm. Again. Again with distance in the game and in the result. He took a deciding third set and set up for a batting and batting fight in the fourth. Djokovic wasn’t going to surrender either, what’s up. It was the defending champion’s moment: Nole took an early lead 3-0, 4-1, 5-2. The fifth set is looming on the horizon. But, in a colossal ninth game, Nadal saved two set points and earned the break to level the score. In the tiebreak, Rafa was only able to shut it down on the fourth match point with a backhand winner, after another one of those long rallies.
Just minutes after the defeat, Djokovic left his impressions: “He was a better player in the important moments. He started better than me in the first, second, third set. There were times in particular when he took his tennis to another level. But I had my chances, especially in fourth. I served for the set, he had set points. It could have taken him to a fifth and maybe it would have been another game. But he showed why he is a great champion. It’s hard to stay there, mentally stable, and finish the game the way he did. I think I could have played better, but I fought and I was there until the last shot. After more than four hours of battle, I have to accept that I lost.”
Exultant, Nadal once again showed the traits of the player who started the year as Australian Open champion and conquered Indian Wells, before being absent for several weeks due to a cracked rib. . “I think I played my best game in the last four months. It was a big effort, but this victory has added value. To play this tournament, I do everything possible, I try to be in the best possible way. The last three months, honestly, haven’t been fun for me at all. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but now I feel good. I’m old enough not to hide things or come here and say something that I don’t feel,” he said of his damaged physique.
But, at the same time, he recognized how much this match meant to him: “It was one of those unforgettable nights, it was very special to beat Novak, we faced each other many times, in always important matches. and for many years. It was a quarter-final match, which means I haven’t won anything yet. But I gave myself the opportunity to come back in a few days and replay the semi-finals. And that means a lot to me.” The romance between Roland Garros and Nadal continues, day and night, definitely eternal.