The king of clay Rafael Nadal didn't play his best tennis on the beloved surface this spring. Nadal lost twice in the quarter-final in the opening four tournaments and won two titles after fending off a match point in both Barcelona and Rome.
The Spaniard gained confidence following a hard-fought triumph over Novak Djokovic in the Rome Open final, but it wasn't to be for him at Roland Garros. Unlike in 2020, when he stormed over the entire field, Nadal was vulnerable behind the initial shot in the last two weeks in Paris, winning five matches but failing to reach the final only for the fourth time.
Rafa lost to Novak 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 in four hours and 11 minutes in an epic semi-final clash, experiencing his third Roland Garros loss and the second to Novak, who bested him in the 2015 quarter-final. It was one of the greatest matches of all time, with two tennis giants pushing each other to the limits from start to finish.
Novak claimed only seven games in the last year's final, and he lost the opening five on Friday night, only with one big difference. The Serb was ready to fight this time, finding his strokes by the end of the opener and taking the second to level the score in just under two hours.
From 5-3 down in the third, Nadal battled past to 5-5 and created a set point in the 12th game that could have been crucial. Novak saved it and gathered momentum ahead of the tie break that he won 7-4 to move closer to the finish line.
Rafael Nadal lost to Novak Djokovic after over four hours at Roland Garros.
Dealing with fatigue and having nothing more left in the tank, Nadal got broken thrice in a row in the fourth set to fall behind and hit the exit door, mighty disappointed but proud of how he fought.
After the match, Nadal said that he can't win Roland Garros forever, aware that it's not realistic to count to 18 or 20 titles in Paris. Nadal also stated that it was another defeat on the tennis court, looking forward to going home the next day and meeting his family.
"My chances of winning Roland Garros are not eternal. In our sport, you have to admit both victory and defeat. I know I can't win 15, 18 or 20 Roland Garros crowns, and it's not a disaster. I'm sad; I lost at the most important tournament for me, but it's just a defeat on the tennis court.
Tomorrow, I will be at home with my family, and that's o.k. It's not a moment to be pleased or create drama; it's somewhere in the middle. I have to rest a bit, both physically and mentally, and then think about my schedule," Rafael Nadal said.