French Open 2021: Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal in wild semifinal battle

·5 min read

 On Friday, the fans at Roland-Garros and the viewers watching on TV were treated to all-timer clay court match between two of the greatest men's tennis players in the history of the game. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played their hearts out for more than four hours in what might be one of the greatest tennis matches in recent memory. But someone had to win. And it was Djokovic who was left standing at the end, beating Nadal 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2. He figured out how to beat Nadal on clay: play the best clay court tennis of his entire life. 

Nadal and Djokovic were playing at a high level from the very first moment. Nadal was dominant early, pulling out to a 5-0 lead with incredible shots that showed off his incredible talent on clay. 

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But then Djokovic found his feet and started doing some damage. He won three straight sets, denying Nadal at least one set point each time. It took a half hour for Nadal to get to 5-0 and his first set point attempt, and another half hour for Nadal to to actually complete it and win the set. 

That was a sign of what was to come. Djokovic opened the second set with two strong games, but when Nadal inevitably evened it up, Djokovic showed how much he'd learned from the first set. He started going on the offensive, challenging Nadal the way that Nadal had been challenging him: hitting shots at angles and in the corners that were nearly impossible to return. Nadal started beating himself, hitting shots wide and giving points to Djokovic for free.

The third set was one of the grittiest, flashiest, most fearless sets of tennis you'll ever see, at Roland-Garros or anywhere else. 

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It was also long. Djokovic and Nadal went back and forth for 97 minutes, with Nadal appearing to be totally out of it before digging deep and tying the set 5-5. Nadal managed to go up 6-5 even had a set point, but Djokovic just flat-out refused to yield. They went to a tiebreak for the first time since they played each other in the 2018 Wimbledon semifinal. In the end, Djokovic went up 2-1 and Nadal lost back-to-back sets at Roland-Garros for the first time since 2015.

By the fourth set, both players were radiating anger and exhaustion, but the crowd was radiating nothing but joy. French Open officials managed to wrangle a reprieve from the 11pm local curfew, meaning the fans would be able to stay for the entire match. 

After a quick 2-2 tie in the fourth set, Djokovic cruised to win the final four games and claim the match.

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After that incredible 5-0 start in the first set, Nadal was never able to recapture that form. Djokovic had an answer for everything, and after four hours and 11 minutes, beat Nadal on what is essentially his home court. (There is a statue of him outside, after all.) The King of Clay isn't invincible, and he certainly wasn't on Friday. 

Tsitsipas withstands Zverev's comeback to make first Grand Slam final

With their wild locks flowing, Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas emerged victorious over Germany's Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 after a five-set battle that lasted three hours and 37 minutes. It was a roller coaster for both competitors, but Tsitsipas was the one who was able to hold on until the very end.

Tsitsipas came out with guns blazing, sliding around the court and showing off impressive athleticism. He used it to win three straight games to start the match, eventually winning the set. Zverev turned that around on Tsitsipas in the second set, winning the first three games, but he then lost the next six games in a row to allow Tsitsipas to take a 2-0 lead.

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Then Tsitsipas had one major dud of a game, and it changed everything. In the third game of the third set, he committed four unforced errors which allowed Zverev to take a 2-1 lead. The momentum shifted from there and Zverev's game started coming together. He took a lead in the set, and every time Tsitsipas got closer, Zverev would move ahead again. He cut down on the unforced errors while Tsitsipas started getting more and more frustrated on the other side of the court. 

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Zverev took the third set and then the fourth set, coming all the way back from being down 2-0 to even it up, while Tsitsipas just couldn't rediscover the magic he'd had during his first two sets. The fifth set gave him a chance to reset, and did he ever. He was sharp and focused, but up 5-2 and faced with four match points, he couldn't put it away. In the end, Zverev couldn't complete the comeback and Tsitsipas delivered an ace to seal his victory. 

Tsitsipas is on his way to his very first Grand Slam final, and is also the first Greek man to ever reach a Grand Slam final. 

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