Snapshots: Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal, 2021 French Open semifinals

Nadal vs. Djokovic LVIII

After a five-set semifinal between Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, won by the Greek, Rafael Nadal got Friday's second semi off to a breezy start in the late afternoon, winning the first five games.

A Silver Lining

It appeared as if Djokovic might suffer a 6-0 first-set loss to Nadal at Roland Garros for the second consecutive year. But the Serb saved a set point while trailing 5-1—and then saved five more—before eventually succumbing at 6-3.

The Battle Has Been Joined

The dogged competitiveness of the back half of set one continued into the second set. 2-0 Djokovic, then 2-2. Djokovic took a 5-2 lead, but every game was earned, every point seemingly a struggle. Both men embraced that fight, but only one could win the set—and it was Djokovic, 6-3.

After Two Sets, Some Stats:

—Both players made 64 percent of first serves

—Both players had 22 winners; Djokovic with 22 unforced errors, Nadal with 24

—Both players hoped to improve break-point conversation. Djokovic went 3 of 10, Nadal 3 of 9

—Nadal won the quick rallies of 0-4 shots: 31 to Djokovic's 22

—Djokovic won the mid-length rallies of 5-8 shots: 29 to Nadal's 20

Three Hours In: One Set All, Five Games All

Somehow, the level of play ascended in the third set. Djokovic and Nadal broke each other early on with return-game gems, before the Serbian broke back—at love—for a 4-3 lead. Of course, Rafa responded—but Djokovic held strong, and his serve, for 5-3.

But Nadal being Nadal, it wasn't quite enough. With Djokovic serving at 5-4, 30-0, Nadal won four consecutive points to once again answer, and raise the stakes. The crowd was enthralled.

"One of the greatest sets of tennis I have ever witnessed"

That quote was spoken by Tennis Channel's Jason Goodall while calling the match with Jim Courier—and it still may have been an understatement. After what felt like thousands of jaw-dropping points, a tiebreaker was needed to settle the set.

Like all the games that preceded it, it was brimming with top-shelf shotmaking and minute margins. That's why Nadal's botched volley, while trailing 3-4, was so crucial. He'd made so many harder shots over the course of the match, but this sitter somehow stumped him.

That was all Djokovic needed to run out the set and take the lead.


As if the crowd wasn't excited enough, it was announced—unexpectedly—that fans could remain in Court Philippe Chatrier past the 11 p.m. government curfew.

One of Nole's Greatest Wins

The third set turned out to be the climax, as Djokovic rode his momentum (as Nadal lamented that critical volley miss?) to a 6-2 fourth-set win. He lost the first five games, but 4:11 after it began, he won the match in four sets.


That's Nadal's record at Roland Garros. Still, obviously, incroyable.

"It's hard to find words for Rafa's achievement in Roland Garros," said Djokovic. "The amount of wins on this court is incredible. You know you have to climb mout Everest when you meet him there."