Friday, June 11, 2021

Djokovic outduels Nadal in French Open classic

Novak Djokovic became the first player to beat Rafael Nadal twice in the French
Open. 2017 photo by Mal Taam
   In a match featuring perhaps the most breathtaking set ever played, Novak Djokovic overcame a terrible start to achieve the toughest feat in tennis.
   Beating Rafael Nadal in the French Open.
   The top-ranked Djokovic subdued the third-seeded Rafael Nadal 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in a 4-hour, 11-minute semifinal today in Paris.
   "It was for sure the most beautiful match I've played here in Paris," Djokovic said on court in French after ending Nadal's four-year reign at Roland Garros.
   Nadal, attempting to become the oldest man to win the French Open at 35, fell to 105-3 at Roland Garros. Djokovic, 34, became the first player to beat him twice there. Now-retired Robin Soderling of Sweden is the other.
   Nadal has won the French Open 13 times, the most by anyone in a Grand Slam tournament. He remains tied with Roger Federer with a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles.
   Djokovic will try to win his 19th major and second French Open crown on Sunday against Stefanos Tsitsipas, a first-time Grand Slam finalist, on Sunday at 6 a.m. PDT (NBC).
   Nadal won the first five games of today's match in what looked like a replay of his 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Djokovic in last October's French Open final. Suddenly, however, the Serb found his game.
   The third set, in particular, was filled with spectacular shotmaking by both players. Djokovic served for the set at 5-4, Nadal saved a break point to hold for 6-5, and Djokovic survived a set point in the next game with a gutsy backhand drop shot. 
   Nadal led 2-0 in the fourth set before his left ankle apparently started bothering him. After Djokovic held for 3-2, Nadal had the tape sliced off the ankle. It didn't help.
   Djokovic improved to 30-28 overall, 8-19 on clay and 2-7 in the French Open against Nadal.
   The all-time greats "never should have met in the semifinals," bellowed NBC commentator Mary Carillo. 
   The French Open seeded players strictly by rankings. Therefore, No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who had been 0-4 at Roland Garros, was placed at the bottom of the draw instead of Nadal or Djokovic.
   Tsitsipas, 22, outlasted No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 in 3 hours, 37 minutes to become the first Greek to reach a Grand Slam final and the youngest man to do so since Andy Murray in the 2010 Australian Open.
   Tsitsipas, who had been 0-3 in major semifinals, overcame a 0-40 deficit in the opening game of the fifth set. Zverev, 24, escaped four match points serving at 2-5, but Tsitsipas converted his fifth match point with an ace out wide.
   Last November, Zverev denied domestic abuse allegations.
   Djokovic is 5-2 (3-0 on clay) against Tsitsipas. They will meet for the third consecutive time on clay. Djokovic prevailed 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in the Italian Open quarterfinals last month and 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 in the French Open semifinals eight months ago.
   Meanwhile, Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic could become the first woman since Mary Pierce in 2000 to sweep the singles and doubles titles. Krejcikova and countrywoman Katerina Siniakova, the second seeds and 2018 champions, routed unseeded Magda Linette of Poland and Bernarda Pera, a Croatia-born American, 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals.
   Krejcikova, unseeded in singles, is scheduled to meet 31st-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia on Saturday at 6 a.m. (NBC). Both will play in their first Grand Slam singles final.
   ATP Tour — Unseeded Sam Querrey continued to take advantage of a favorable draw, topping promising Dominic Stephan Stricker, an 18-year-old wild card from Switzerland, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Mercedes Cup on grass in Stuttgart, Germany.
   Querrey, a 33-year-old San Francisco native, played qualifiers in the first two rounds. He reached his first semifinal since Eastbourne on grass in June 2019, going on to lose to Taylor Fritz in the final.
   ATP Challenger Tour — Wild card Sam Riffice, a 22-year-old native of Sacramento, Calif., beat Ulises Blanch 6-1, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the $52,080 Orlando (Fla.) Open on hardcourts. Both players are based in Orlando.
   As a junior at the University of Florida, Riffice helped the Gators win their first NCAA men's team title and added the singles crown last month.
   Another Sacramento native, third-seeded Jenson Brooksby, withdrew from his quarterfinal against qualifier Nicolas Mejia of Colombia because of a right arm injury.

1 comment:

  1. I've been watching pro tennis since 1968, the beginning of open tennis, and the third set of today's match may have been the single best set I have ever seen. For Djokovic to prevail after missing a sitter at 5-4, 30-0, was also a rare feat of mental perseverance. Rafa almost never loses when he gets a reprieve like that.