Rafael Nadal: 'I had to play well against Novak Djokovic, and I did'
by JOVICA ILIC | VIEW 24096
Rafael Nadal struggled with a foot injury around Roland Garros, needing injections to kill the pain and remain competitive. Rafa battled past Felix Auger-aliassime in the fourth round and faced world no. 1 Novak Djokovic in the quarter-final.
It was their only clash in 2022, and Nadal dethroned Djokovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 in four hours and 12 minutes. Thus, Rafa earned his 29th victory over Novak on Court Philippe-Chatrier and advanced into the semi-final. It was their tenth Roland Garros duel and the eighth win for Rafa, who avenged the last year's semi-final loss.
Despite the cold, heavy and slow conditions on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Nadal produced his A-game to beat Djokovic after another memorable marathon. Novak recovered in the second set and threw everything he had at Rafa in the fourth, only to miss a set point and drop a tie break to end his chances.
Rafa made the difference with his second serve, keeping it safe and overpowering Novak in the pivotal moments. Nadal saved eight out of 12 break chances and turned 43% of the return points into seven breaks from 17 opportunities.
The Spaniard dictated the pace with 57 winners and 43 unforced errors, leaving the Serb on a 48-53 ratio. Rafa had a massive advantage in the shortest range up to four strokes. He overpowered Novak in the most extended exchanges to seal the deal in four sets and preserve some energy for the semi-final clash.
Nadal was off to a flying start, placing his down the line strokes and spreading Djokovic over the baseline. Rafa seized the third break chance in the encounter's opening game for an early advantage. The Spaniard cracked a forehand down the line winner in the fifth game to deliver another break and open a 4-1 lead.
Novak held at 15 in game seven to prolong the set, and Rafa wrapped it up with a service winner in the next one for 6-2 in 49 minutes. The second set turned into an open war that lasted almost an hour and a half!
Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros.
Nadal seized two early breaks before dropping six of the next seven games and bringing Djokovic back to the scoreboard.
Rafa squandered multiple game points at 3-2, and Novak seized the fifth break chance after the rival's wayward backhand. The Serb broke again in game ten to take the set 6-4 and level the overall score after two hours and 16 minutes.
Rafa restored the order in set number three, taming his strokes nicely and producing a double break to take it 6-2 and move closer to the finish line. Nadal survived the third set's fourth game and broke Djokovic again in the next one after Novak's loose backhand.
The Spaniard held at 30 in the eighth game for 6-2 and two sets to one advantage after three hours. With no room for errors, Novak rattled off four impressive holds in the fourth set and grabbed an early break for 5-2. Djokovic served for the set at 5-3 and squandered two set points, allowing Nadal to break back with a forehand crosscourt winner and extend the set.
They both served well in the remaining three games to introduce a tie break. Djokovic failed to find his range and fell 6-1 down after a loose drop shot. The Serb saved three match points and reduced the deficit to 6-4 with a forehand crosscourt return winner.
Nadal cracked a backhand down the line winner in the 11th point to seal the deal and reach the last four. "I left Rome limping. If the doctors had not found the solution to numb the nerve in my foot and remove the pain, I would not have had a chance at Roland Garros.
My preparation was far from good, but the confidence was there after winning the Australian Open. I had to play well in the quarter-final against Novak Djokovic, and I did. The semi-final against Alexander Zverev was very challenging; I have to admit that.
Things were complicated, and anything could have happened if Alexander did not twist his ankle," Rafael Nadal said.