Rafael Nadal Defeats Novak Djokovic In Four-Set Thriller In Roland Garros Quarterfinal

Rafael Nadal 2022 French Open

The power struggle at the top of men’s tennis continues. Rafael Nadal produced an effort of gargantuan proportions to outlast Novak Djokovic on Court Phillipe Chatrier on Tuesday night. The win means that the great Spaniard goes on to face the German Alexander Zverev in a semifinal to be played on Friday.

Grand Slam Title #22 in sight for Nadal

The huge win also means that Nadal is now the hot favorite for his fourteenth French Open title, and 22nd in total. After his remarkable Australian Open win in January if Nadal was to go and win the Roland-Garros title again then he will open up a two title gap over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the total Grand Slam wins race.

A match as epic as the one in this quarterfinal though just demonstrates how far away from the end both Nadal and Djokovic may well be. Despite the emergence of Carlos Alcaraz, who lost to Zverev in the day’s other quarterfinal, and the likes of Daniil Medvedev on hard courts, tennis is still at its peak when Djokovic and Nadal take to the court. It may well be the most played men’s tennis match of all time, but it is still appointment viewing in the sport.

Nadal Blows Everyone Away From The Start

All the talk in the build-up to the match was of how the night conditions would favor the Serbian. It was said that the ball wouldn’t get up off the court high enough to suit Nadal, that the thickness of the air would suit the Djokovic defence. Nadal himself stated his reluctance to play a clay night session. However, in practice, Nadal threw those theories out straight away. The Spaniard broke in the opening game, in a manner that would become a theme in the match, in a deuce game.

Nadal kept his foot on Djokovic’s throat throughout the opener with immaculate court control. His groundstrokes, off both wings, were spraying the lines with the dirt. The intention was clear with every delivery of the racquet. The topspin on the forehand seemed unaffected by the conditions and the angles on the two-hander were so sharp. Djokovic couldn’t get into the match despite his best efforts.

The Tide Turns in the Second Set

The opening game of the second set seemed to be pivotal at the time. It took six deuces to be decided as a(nother) break for Rafael Nadal. When the Spaniard broke again to make it 3-0 it appeared that the Roland-Garros crowd might be in for an earlier night than anticipated. However, Djokovic had begun to show signs of getting his movement and accuracy up to speed.

This was then proven by an impressive break back for 1-3 and then came an epic sixth game. Seven deuces were played before Djokovic finally took his fifth breakpoint in that game. The Serbian clearly accelerated as the set wore on and by the time he wrapped up the 88-minute-long set with a huge break in the tenth game, the world #1 looked set to move forwards and win the match.

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Nadal: The Force Of Nature

However, as always, Nadal found the answers. An immediate break in the first game of the set switched the momentum back in his favor and seemed to completely flatten Djokovic. 16 unforced errors in a single set from the Serbian isn’t something that is usually associated with him and question marks started to be raised about the mental and physical stamina required to win a match of this type.

Nadal went to this well in Australia against Daniil Medvedev. Winning an epic five-set encounter after such little match practice before the Australian Open feels akin to what Djokovic was working out here. Due to his absence from proceedings in Australia, Djokovic hadn’t faced this type of battle since the US Open in September, again against Medvedev. On that occasion, of course, Djokovic was unable to rise to claim the ultimate victory. Was this going to prey on the mind of the 20-time Grand Slam champion?

An Epic Conclusion

It would be perhaps unfair to say that it was the mentality of Djokovic that was the undoing of the great champion. Rafael Nadal raised him game to an unbeatable level from 2-5 down in the decider. Djokovic’s two set points were not choked away but wrestled away from him by superb Spanish tennis and determination.

The fourth set tiebreak went immediately in the direction of Nadal and he was always unlikely to relinquish that grip. Phillipe Chatrier is still Nadal’s house. The 13-time Champion was too good and demonstrated, once more, that he is the master of the clay. In the day and, despite the theories, at night too.

The physical toll of this match is likely to be huge for the 35-year-old Nadal. Of course, he now has two days off so that works to his advantage. It is hard to envisage him losing his grip on the title from here, but this is why we love tennis. Nothing is decided until the points are won. However, it is advantage Nadal in the Grand Slam race.

Main Photo from Getty.