PARIS — Roland Garros came alive on Wednesday in many ways.
As the French government eased restrictions related to the coronavirus, allowing some 5,000 fans to fill the Philippe Chattier court with cheering chants and fiery Panama hats, it seemed fitting that this would be the day that matches anticipated for nearly two weeks. will establish.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet in the semi-finals of the French Open on Friday. The two won vigorous matches on Wednesday that were filled with tension, noise and booms of pace in every direction.
Their semi-final match will be the latest in an epic rivalry and for the second time in less than a month they will face each other on red clay, Nadal’s favorite surface. However, Djokovic gave him everything he could manage in his recent three-set clay-court match in the final of the Italian Open, which Nadal wins 10th time.
“It’s going to be a special match with a lot of crowds, as it was today,” said Diego Schwartzman of Argentina. fought bravely against Nadali Only to fall in four sets on Wednesday. “Everybody wants to see it.”
They also wanted to see the end of Djokovic’s quarterfinal match with Italy’s Matteo Berrettini. But the curfew of 11 pm intervened. Upon change at 10:54 local time, Djokovic led a set and 3-2 in the fourth, as players headed to the locker room as security personnel cleared the crowd, which was about five times larger than any previous day and had spent the better part of an hour helping to lift Berettini from a two-set hole.
Almost similar incidents were revealed during one of Djokovic’s matches at the Australian Open in February. At the same time, there was an outcry for Wednesday’s exit. But after about 15 minutes the players returned to the empty stadium to complete the night’s work.
Djokovic then defeated ninth-seeded Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7(5) 7-5, just as he was desperate to save every ounce of energy for his next match.
“Very difficult conditions,” said a spending Djokovic when it was over.
Now comes the hardest part. Djokovic holds a 29-28 lead against Nadal, although Nadal is much better on clay, with a 19-7 record that currently looks even more impressive. It’s warming up in Paris, baking the mud and blowing the ball just the way Nadal loves it.
“We know each other very well,” Nadal said after beating 10th seed Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0. “Everybody knows anything can happen in matches like these.”
Djokovic said playing with Nadal at the French Open was different from anything else in the game.
He said, ‘Playing against Nadal on this court is the biggest challenge for you. “Every time we face each other, there is that extra tension and expectation. It’s a different environment to walk the court with him.”
And yet, with players seeded in Grand Slam tournaments, according to the current ranking, the matchup comes in the semi-finals, one round before anyone with knowledge of the game believes Nadal, the defending champion, No. Tha Seed and the 13-time winner of this event should play world No. 1 Djokovic.
But Nadal skipped the 2020 United States Open due to concerns about the pandemic, lost the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and played a limited schedule after that tournament, allowing Daniil Medvedev to finish second in the world rankings. Got it.
“It’s a big difference,” Nadal said on Wednesday of meeting Djokovic in the semi-finals rather than the final. “The winner of that match needs to keep going, and there’s a lot of work to do to try to achieve the end goal here.”
Nadal had to work hard on Wednesday to make it to the semi-finals. For a while, with an intense, late afternoon sun turning the conditions confusingly, Schwartzman held Nadal on the ropes.
A rookie player who has achieved the most with a body that is more than five and a half feet tall, Schwartzman is a first-order defender. What he lacks in leverage and power, he makes up for by having more moves and spin in his strings than almost any other player on the tour. His topspin lob, which somehow always lands within inches of the baseline, is as good as it gets.
He’s done one of the hardest things in the game. He defeated Nadal on red clay at the Italian Open last year. He is a hugely popular player in the locker room, a figure of attraction among peers who is usually at least half a foot taller than him and who knows firsthand how difficult it can be to play, especially on clay. Schwartzman is fearless, and he came to the fight on Wednesday.
One set down, he fought to stay in the match, and he had the crowd at Roland Garros – who regard Nadal as a beloved adopted son – chanting his name. He did not disappoint, removing his powerful forehand, breaking Nadal three times in the first two sets and swooning his confidence. By the end of the second set, Nadal was sending weak backhands to the middle of the court so that Schwartzman could tee-off and repeatedly failed to clear the overheads that he usually gets off the court.
Ultimately, though, no part of Schwartzman’s game is better than Nadal’s, with the possible exception of that topspin lob.
After going 3-4 in the third set, Nadal suddenly began to remember where he was and what he had achieved here. They won the next nine games and finished the match in 2 hours 45 minutes. He won 25 out of 30 points in the final set.
“In the end, he’s Rafa and he’s always looking for a way out,” Schwartzman said.
After Nadal was done, it was Djokovic’s turn to block the end of the deal.
At first, Djokovic was far more clinical than in his fourth-round match against another Italian, Lorenzo Musetti, who took two sets before Djokovic.
Arguably his best return to date in the game, Djokovic broke Berrettini’s usually troublesome serve in the first two sets, giving Berrettini a few chances to break his break.
Djokovic has lost only once in his career after losing two sets. But with no room for error, Berrettini found a slit in his serve and whispered to Djokovic to get the rim of his racket on the ball. Under pressure, Djokovic missed the opportunity to serve the third set tiebreaker. Then, with the stadium empty and his anger boiling, Djokovic barely clinched a fourth-place victory for Berrettini, screaming like a cave man when Berrettini’s final shot hit the middle of the net.
Djokovic has already seen versions of this film. In October, he reached the final of the French Open against Nadal and had an as good chance as ever against a player who had never lost a final match at Roland Garros. He appeared to be in form, and the turnaround in the tournament’s collapse due to the pandemic meant calm playing conditions that left balls dead, preventing him from jumping into Nadal’s favorite strike zone.
Till now Nadal beats Djokovic, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.
Goran Ivanisevic, 2001 Wimbledon champion and Djokovic’s coach, said the defeat had shocked Djokovic, especially after his Disqualification from the United States Open In September, when he inadvertently threw a ball into the neck of a line judge.
The win gave Nadal his 20th Grand Slam title, the most in the history of the men’s sport, alongside Roger Federer. Djokovic pulled inside two of them in February, when he won its ninth Australian Open Championship.
Now he and Nadal are getting on the line with only one berth in Sunday’s final, even if it doesn’t really feel like it. either of the other two semi-finalists, Stephanos Tsitsipas and Alexander ZverevHas won a Grand Slam title.
At a minimum, great matchups should be completed with plenty of time before the curfew. The Panama Cap will come into force.