Last Friday, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal played an anticipated Roland Garros semi-final. Two legends were projected to fight for a place in the final in the upper half, and they both won five matches to arrange their 58th meeting on the Tour and the 17th at Majors.
Fifteen years after battling for the first time in Paris, Novak and Rafa are still the players to beat at the most notable events, right after turning 35 and 34, respectively. Thus, Djokovic and Nadal forged the fifth-oldest Major semi-final and the third-oldest in the last three seasons.
At Roland Garros 1968, Rod Laver and Pancho Gonzales fought in the semis, and we had John Newcombe and the veteran Ken Rosewall in the last four at the US Open 1974. Forty-five years later, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played back-to-back semis at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, with an average age at over 70.
Nadal and Djokovic are now fifth on that list, passing the 69-year mark in another evidence of their incredible longevity and persistence.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played one of the oldest semi-final since 1968.
Djokovic and Nadal stayed on Court Philippe-Chatrier for four hours and 11 minutes and pushed each other to the limits before the Serb prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 for his sixth final in Paris.
After five straight losses to Nadal on the slowest surface, Djokovic was ready to make an extra step and beat the most significant rival for the second time in six years in Paris, confident in his game and physical strength.
The Serb scored eight breaks (Nadal lost serve that many times in the entire Roland Garros last October) and stood as the more determined player on the court with 50 winners and 37 unforced errors. Moreover, Djokovic pushed Nadal's backhand to the limits and reduced the rival's forehand to forge a massive advantage in the mid-range exchanges and bring the victory home after an epic battle.
Despite a great start, Nadal lost steam in the crucial moments, wasting his chances in the closing stages of the second set and squandering a set point at 6-5 in the third before losing the tie break, his seventh in a row against the top-10 players at Majors!
The Spaniard forged a 5-0 advantage in the opener and won it 6-3. Novak found his strokes in the meanwhile and won the second set to get back into contention. From 5-3 down in the third set, Nadal climbed back 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, taking it 7-4 and never looking back after that. Rafa suffered three breaks in a row in the fourth set to hit the exit door and experience only the third Roland Garros loss.