A few days before turning 36, Rafael Nadal is still capable of playing at a high level, despite all the setbacks with injuries. The Spaniard made a perfect start to the season before experiencing a rib injury that prevented him from competing in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
Nadal scored only four victories in Madrid and Rome, and his troubled foot did not look good ahead of Roland Garros. Seeking the 14th title at his beloved Major, Rafa stopped the clock and defeated five rivals to advance into the 15th semi-final in Paris.
Nadal endured a rare Parisian five-setter against Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round and set a blockbuster clash versus world no. 1 Novak Djokovic. Rafa toppled Novak 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 on Court Philippe-Chatrier in the night session to advance into the semi-final and remain on the title course.
Greg Rusedski praised Nadal and his effort a couple of days before turning 36, calling the Spaniard's run remarkable. Rafa needed four hours and 12 minutes to overpower Novak in another classic.
Greg Rusedski praised Rafael Nadal after his notable victory over Novak Djokovic.
It was Nadal's 29th victory over Djokovic in 59 encounters and his 20th triumph over the greatest rival on clay.
Rafa avenged the last year's Roland Garros defeat to Novak and set the semi-final clash against Alexander Zverev on Friday. Nadal kept the second serve safe and defended eight out of 12 break chances. The Spaniard claimed 43% of the return points and turned them into seven breaks from 17 opportunities.
Rafa fired 57 winners and 43 unforced errors, determined to control the pace with his forehand and make the first move in the exchanges. Nadal toppled Djokovic in the shortest range up to four strokes and had the upper hand in the more advanced rallies to seal the deal in four sets.
Novak had a massive chance to force a decider and prolong his chances, opening a 5-2 lead in the fourth and creating two set points on his serve before spoiling everything and allowing Rafa to emerge at the top. Nadal made a strong start and took the opener with breaks in games one and five.
The Spaniard needed 50 minutes to take the set 6-2, and the second turned out to be even more grueling. It lasted for almost an hour and a half, and Rafa opened a 3-0 lead with a double break. Finding his attacking forehand, Novak took charge in the rest of the set and claimed six of the next seven games to clinch it 6-4 and gain a boost.
Rafa restored the order in set number three, taming his strokes nicely and producing a double break for 6-2 and a big step forward. Novak rattled off four impressive holds and grabbed an early break to open a 5-2 gap in set number four, looking good to force a decider.
The Serb squandered two set points at 5-3, and those mistakes would prove very costly. Rafa broke back with a forehand crosscourt winner, and they both served well in the remaining three games to introduce a tie break. Djokovic failed to find his range and necessary boost to fall 6-1 down after a loose drop shot.
The Serb saved three match points before the Spaniard seized the fourth with a backhand down the line winner in the 11th point to emerge at the top.