By Matt Cronin
PARIS – In his nine years playing Roland Garros, if there was any match that Rafael Nadal could have walked off the court with his head held high in defeat it would have been in his semifinal against Novak Djokovic on Friday. The Spaniard did not play his best during the entire match, but he was playing well enough to have beaten just about any other man on the tour in straight sets.
But the Serbian is not that guy, he is the very resourceful No. 1, a man who never seems to tire and always seems to be believe that he has the resources and weapons to stage a comeback.
That is exactly what he did in the fourth set when he was down a break twice to the seven- time French open champion. He took his racket back, swung from the hips and cracked one winner after another with his crisp two-handed backhand and flying forehand. Eventually, he worked his way into the tiebreaker, faced down Nadal, punched his chest and roared.
“Djokovic always come back. That’s the real thing,” Nadal said.
He seemed to take every ball early and kept Nadal on his heels. The Spaniard had dominated the contest for two of the first three sets, with his speed, laser like forehand and steely defense.
Djokovic broke Nadal during the Spaniard’s opening service game in the fifth set and for the first half of that set looked like the far better player as Nadal struggled to hold. But then down 4-2, Nadal began to make a big push, knowing that he had to try to hit his weaker backhand deeper and harder and when every he had a chance, go for the lines and corner with his forehand. He also know he had to serve bigger and return more respectively.
Finally, Djokovic lost his cool down 8-7 as he felt the court was too slippery and he complained the chair umpire Pascal Maria, asking that the court be watered, but to no avail.
“You are not even looking at the court,” Djokovic raged at the umpire during the changeover. “You are not taking any decisions.”
Nadal came off his chair hungry and ready to close and Djokovic lost his focus. The result was a hearty 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7 victory for Nadal in four and one-half hours.
“What’s important is passion and mental strength and the mindset,” Nadal said. “ Of course, I lost the fourth set, as you saw, but these are special feelings. I’m very satisfied all in all about the way I finished the match.”
Nadal also said that it was poetic justice that he managed to overcome Djokovic in such a dramatic marathon, as the last time he had lost to the Serbian at a major, in the 2012 Australian Open final, Djokovic came away with five -set victory in a record a five hour and 53 minute final in match that Nadal had plenty of chances in.
“In Australia everything was good for me, yet I lost,” Nadal said. “So I deserved such a match after this defeat in Australia.”
Djokovic would not hang his head after the defeat and he shouldn’t, as outside of Robin Soderling ‘s stunning upset of Nadal in 2009 when the Spaniard’s knees ached, he came closer to besting the King of Clay than anyone since 2005. But the Serbian does not like finishing in second place, and three of his last four Grad Slam give him some reason for concern: an emotional loss to Roger Federer in the semifinals of 1012 Wimbledon; a five-set defeat to Andy Murray in the 2012 US Open final; a fantastic run to his third Australian Open title at the start of 2013; and now another five set defeat to Nadal at the tournament he most wanted to win. But be believes he can make a quick mental turnaround.
“It’s not the last loss, in my career ‑ and against this particular player,” said Djokovic who is now 15-20 versus Nadal. “It’s not like, Okay, it’s great. Enjoyed it.’ I lost the match after five hours. I wanted this title so much, so I am disappointed. That’s the way I feel. I don’t think it’s gonna take the toll, on me in the future because I have been in these particular situations before. So hopefully I can use this next period that is coming up to recover and mentally get motivated and get inspired again to play my best tennis in Wimbledon.”
Nadal will meet his gritty countryman David Ferrer in the final, whom he is 19-4 against and has only lost one match to on clay. He has taken down his Davis Cup teammate three times on dirt this season, including recently at Madrid and Rome, although Ferrer did have him on the ropes in Spain and let him off the hook.
The 27-year-old Nadal, who celebrated his birthday once again in Paris, will be a huge favorite in that contest. Ferrer has played the best Grand Slam tennis of his life during the fortnight, but he will likely have to hope that Nadal’s level will drop through the floor of Court Philippe Chatrier if he’s going to have much of a chance. The King of Clay appears ready to reign for another year, but Ferrer is daring to dream.
“Defeating Rafa is very difficult on any surface; it’s even worse on clay, said Ferrer, who took down Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets. “But once again, I’m going to try to play a beautiful match. I don’t want to think of whether it’s the occasion, the opportunity of my life, if it’s a dream.”
©Daily Tennis News Wire