Djokovic One Set From Beating Nadal At Roland Garros

Novak Djokovic is one set from completing a massive win against Rafael Nadal on Friday evening in their blockbuster Roland Garros semi-final, which has lived up to the hype as one of the best matches of the season, full of twists, turns and sensational tennis.

The World No. 1 lost the first five games and appeared in danger of letting the match slip away. But Djokovic has found his best form to take a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) lead against the 13-time champion after three hours and 30 minutes. 

Infosys Stats – Djokovic v Nadal (Through 3rd Set)

 Stat  Novak Djokovic  Rafael Nadal
 1st-Serve Pts Won  61% (43/70)  64% (47/73)
 2nd-Serve Pts Won  51% (22/43)  39% (15/38)
 Return Pts Won  44% (49/11)  42% (48/113)
 Net Pts Won  62% (18/29)  71% (10/14)
 Break Pts Converted  28% (5/18)  33% (5/15)
 Winners  39  42
 Unforced Errors  32  47

In these legends’ historic ATP Head2Head rivalry, the winner of the first set has claimed 50 of their 57 meetings. Not since the 2014 Roland Garros final, won by Nadal, has one of them triumphed after losing the first set. But Djokovic is now one set from reaching his sixth final at the clay-court Grand Slam.

The third set was tennis you would expect in a video game, with both superstars showing incredible shotmaking, athleticism and mental fortitude. Djokovic let slip a chance to serve out the set at 5-4, 30/0, with a missed forehand into the net slowing his momentum. But the Serbian saved a set point at 5-6 with a daring drop shot, and he battled through a thrilling tie-break in which he chased down two critical drop shots and eventually won those points.

After a slow start, the Serbian has been able to pin the third seed in his backhand corner to prevent the lefty from taking the initiative in rallies with his devastating forehand. Djokovic is trying to make a dent in Nadal’s jaw-dropping 105-2 record at Roland Garros.

It did not start well for Djokovic, though. The top seed put Nadal under pressure in the first game, earning two break points. But after saving those break points with big serves, the Spaniard raced to a 5-0 lead and eventually took the set 6-3 despite a late charge from Djokovic.

Nadal showed great intensity from the first ball in the opener, attacking relentlessly and forcing Djokovic to try to play offence from difficult positions on the court. At points, the Serbian blasted balls at the lefty’s forehand and had success, but he has also struggled with his drop shot, much like he did in last year’s championship match on this court.

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When Nadal took the first big strike in rallies, he was more effective at maintaining control of points and finishing them. He hit his third double fault of the match to give a break back, and that turned the tide. Djokovic settled down to push the Spaniard in his next service game. Although he was unable to win the set, he successfully found his rhythm and carried that momentum into the second set.

The 2016 champion let slip an early break advantage in the second with a few unforced errors doing the damage. But Djokovic remained calm and earned the decisive break at 3-2. The top seed, who has at times struggled to put points away at the net, saved two break points at 5-3 before levelling the match.

Djokovic has put pressure on Nadal in almost every service game, and that has left the 13-time champion looking lost for answers. Even after Nadal worked hard to retrieve one break and get back on serve in the middle of the third set, the World No. 1 was undeterred.

The 34-year-old broke back in the next game to lead 4-3 when Nadal missed a forehand into the net. The pair’s level has been scintillating, with former World No. 1 Andy Murray tweeting, “You cannot play better clay court tennis than this. It’s perfect.”

Nadal had only lost one set this tournament entering the semi-finals, and that came in the quarter-finals against Diego Schwartzman. Four of the Spaniard’s seven Roland Garros victories against Djokovic had come in straight sets.

These two legends are meeting for a record 58th time in their ATP Head2Head series. Although the Serbian leads their rivalry 29-28, the legendary lefty has a 7-1 edge on the Parisian clay, and he has won five consecutive matches against his great rival on clay.

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Nadal is trying to win a record 21st Grand Slam title this fortnight, which would move him past Roger Federer to stand alone atop the all-time list. Djokovic is attempting to complete a second Career Grand Slam and earn his 19th major crown.

The winner will play Stefanos Tsitsipas for the Coupe des Mousquetaires. The Greek battled past Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 in three hours and 37 minutes in the day’s first semi-final. Nadal holds a 7-2 ATP Head2Head lead against Tsitsipas, and Djokovic owns a 5-2 advantage against the 22-year-old.