PARIS (AFP) ‒ Novak Djokovic handed 13-time champion Rafael Nadal only his third defeat in 16 years and 108 matches at the French Open on Friday to reach his sixth Roland Garros final after an epic showdown which even beat the country’s Covid-19 curfew.
In their 58th career clash, Djokovic triumphed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 and stays on course to capture a 19th major and become the first man in over 50 years to win all four Slams twice.
Djokovic, the 2016 champion in Paris who had also beaten Nadal at the 2015 tournament, will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final in what will be his 29th championship match at the Slams.
Tsitsipas had earlier become the first Greek to reach a Grand Slam final with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Germany’s Alexander Zverev.
Nadal, 35, remains tied on 20 majors with Roger Federer.
“It was a privilege to face Rafa in such an incredible match,” said Djokovic after four hours and 11 minutes of intense action.
“Tonight it was my greatest ever match in Paris.”
He now leads Nadal 30-28 in their career rivalry.
“It’s hard to find words for Rafa’s achievements at Roland Garros. The amount of wins on this court is incredible,” he added.
“You have to climb Mount Everest when you meet him here.”
It was Djokovic’s second win in eight meetings in Paris with Nadal, a sequence which also included three losses in finals.
It was Nadal’s first defeat in 14 semi-finals in the French capital.
“Probably it was not my best day today, even if I fought,” said Nadal.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I had a big chance. There were some crazy points but there was fatigue there.”
Djokovic finished with 50 winners; Nadal committed 55 unforced errors under the relentless assault.
In a further twist on a dramatic evening, the 5,000 spectators inside Court Philippe Chatrier were allowed to watch the conclusion of the match despite it passing the 11pm Covid-19 curfew.
“In agreement with the national authorities, the match will come to an end in your presence,” said a stadium announcer told delighted fans.
“Thank you Macron! Thank you Macron!” in gratitude to the apparent intervention of the French President.