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Novak Djokovic Victory Over Rafael Nadal Will Go Down as One of the Greatest Matches of All Time

Novak Djokovic Rafael Nadal Rome 2021

In one of the most unprecedented events in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic delivered Rafael Nadal only the third loss of his career at Roland Garros, winning 3-6 6-3 7-6 (4) 6-2.

Djokovic broke Nadal’s streak of four straight French Open titles and decreased Nadal’s record to 105-3 in Paris, giving himself the chance to be the only man in the Open Era to win every Grand Slam twice.

The match was one of the highest quality in the Open Era – here’s how it played out.

History almost repeats itself

Djokovic was the first to announce himself. Exceptional depth on his backhand immediately gave the Serb several break points, however, a rued overhead smash and some clutch serving saw the game go Nadal’s way.

From there, Nadal hit a similar level to the one he reached in his final set against Diego Schwartzman. He crushed umpteen forehand winners down the line to race to a 5-0 lead, threatening to bagel Djokovic for the third time in their last four meetings.

Despite Rafa hitting a stunning overhead shot, Djokovic began to find a little more feel on his drop shots, having lost his first five attempts, and settled into his groundstrokes.

As the pressure eased, Djokovic loosened up, finding his way back to 5-3. Nadal blew a 40-0 lead to see his serve creep back to deuce but his serve, which has been a crucial weapon in his later years, saw him close out the game.

Great stuff but not insane yet…

Two legends lock horns

Though Nadal had taken the first set, the three games Djokovic had won had given him confidence. His aggression in the first set had seen him spray one too many errors so he began to rely on his defensive capabilities. It proved an apt change in tactics as he found astounding width off of Nadal’s thunderous groundstrokes, eventually forcing Nadal’s level of play to drop slightly. The two players would trade breaks but Djokovic was the first to consolidate a break of serve, moving ahead 4-2.

Suddenly, the level of play reached absurd heights. With each point of Djokovic’s fourth service game of the set reaching an average rally length of 12, these two legends were putting on a show. Djokovic was taking some impressive backhands on the rise and Nadal hit some stunners off his own backhand wing, particularly his backhand pass at 3-5 down with the set on the line.

A couple of rare errors from Nadal would prove costly, however, and Djokovic levelled this immense match at one set apiece.

From a great match to all-time classic

At the beginning of the third set, Djokovic tapped in to an effective cross court forehand against Nadal, one that’s been missing from his arsenal against the King of Clay on his favorite surface for years. Djokovic was able to open up the advantage court consistently, upping his tournament average forehand speed by 4mph, and out of nowhere, he was instigating play. This, and a rare missed Nadal overhead, assisted Djokovic in breaking to move ahead 3-2.

Nadal struck back, obliterating a Djokovic serve and volley and staying intense in several god-tier points.

The effort of breaking back took its toll, however, and Djokovic sealed a third consecutive break of serve, this time to love. Djokovic bravely snuffed out a break point with a massive forehand to buck the trend, mounting the pressure on the Spaniard to hold his serve to stay in the set.

The best clay court player of all time would not go down without a fight, however. On the brink of going two sets to one down, Nadal slaughtered every poor ball in his path to hold serve and ruthlessly break back. The next two games went by in a blur as the greats played some of the most sublime tennis of their 58 meetings. Nadal hung on by the skin of his teeth, saved only by his serve and Djokovic saved a set point with the deftest of touches.

Tiebreak time. After all the incredible tennis, Nadal was the first to crack, double faulting and missing a volley on top of the net to give Djokovic a 4-3 lead. Djokovic didn’t need to be asked twice as an ace and a couple of botched drop shots from Nadal saw the world #1 clinch one of the best sets of tennis ever played.

Out of this world!

Novak Djokovic clinches an extraordinary match

Nadal tried to take control of the match with some incredible defence. He would break Djokovic, quickly moving ahead 2-0.

The Serb, sensing it was his moment however, was relentless in his forehand execution, hitting it better than he ever has in his life.

Djokovic served like a deity, moved Rafa from side to side like he was ranked #200 in the world and peppered his play with drop shots to reel off six games on the bounce.

After more than four hours, the still full Philippe Chatrier crowd erupted as Nadal’s backhand just missed wide. Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal for the second time at the French Open in the most emphatic fashion.

The King of Clay has been dethroned; the World #1 played a match for the ages.

Truly, words cannot fully describe this epic. Make sure to watch as many highlight videos as you can, because each point was better than the next.

Main Photo from Getty.


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