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Nadal edges Djokovic in another thriller to advance to 8th Fench Open final

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rafael_nadal1Defending champion Rafael Nadal made a return to the Roland Garros final for the 8th time in 9 appearances after outlasting world no.1 Novak Djokovic in a nail biting and topsy turvy 5 set semi-final  that lasted an epic 4 hours and 37 minutes, fighting back from a break down in the final set to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7.

The 35th meeting between the two great rivals got off to a great start for Novak Djokovic. He found his rhythm almost immediately while the ‘King Of Clay’ looked a bit unsure of his movement. Still, Nadal was able to keep up with the top seed to take the match to 3-3 on serve. After that, things changed. The Spaniard found his game and broke Djokovic’s serve for a 4-3 lead which he extended further to take the first set 6-4 after 51 tense minutes.

Djokovic was subdued at the start of the second set and Nadal capitalized by breaking early for a 3-2 lead. The Serb could not afford being down 2 sets to love in the contest and he rallied to take the next 4 games to take set no.2 6-3 and level proceedings at a set a piece.

The defending champion finally held serve to stop the world no.1’s momentum and then continued his ascent by winning the next 5 games in a row to lead 5-0. At this point, the top seed’s shoulders began to slump and he seemed to be already looking ahead to the 4th set. Despite that, he managed to hold on and prevented the bagel but still lost the set 6-1.

The first three sets were short on drama and Nadal looked quite comfortably in control for the most part. The match caught fire in the 4th set. First, Nadal edged ahead for a 4-3 lead. Djokovic broke right back. Again the Spaniard broke serve to put himself in a position to serve out the match for 6-5. The Serb refused to go down without a fight and got the break back for the second time sending the set to a tie break.

The last time the duo had played a breaker was in Monaco, early this year, and Djokovic had come up trumps, winning it 7-1. He got the early momentum, again in this tiebreak, and claimed the first three points before Nadal finally registered on the board. But the Serb looked completely in control as his forehand and backhand both looked sharp and helped him claim the last 4 points to take the set 7-3 and force the match into a decider.

Nadal had played a 5th set only once before in Paris, against John Isner at the 2011 edition. This time he came up against the world no.1 and the man who beat him in three straight Grand Slam finals. The Serb carried forward his momentum from the fourth set into set no.5 and broke the Spaniard’s serve in the very first game and consolidated soon after en route to a 4-3 lead on his serve.

A dramatic 8th game ensued. The topspin lefty forehand produced astounding winners up the line as Nadal got a break back point at 30-40. He failed to convert. Then Djokovic played an aggressive point and came rushing forward for an easy put away at the net but took things a little too casually and sank into the net before his winning shot bounced twice on the other side to give the 11 time Slam champion one more break point. An argument between the umpire and world no.1 followed but to no avail as the Spaniard leveled proceedings at 4-4.

The crowd was completely engrossed by this point. Every point was cheered and even after 4 hours it looked like the two could go on for 4 more hours.  Djokovic served second and found himself behind game after game and the pressure eventually got to him in the 16th game as Nadal raced to a 0-40 lead on the back of great forehand winners and an error by Djokovic. One more unforced error added to the 74 that preceded it saw Nadal break out in smile and Uncle Toni get up to his feet and cheer his nephew loudly as the Spaniard ran to the net in glee celebrating his 20th victory over Novak Djokovic to give himself a chance to defend his 2012 French Open title.

File Photograph Copyright: Jimmy William