Flashback: Nadal Outlasts Djokovic In 2013 Semi-Final Thriller
Spaniard entered contest with 41-2 record in 2013
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have met on seven occasions at Roland Garros, most notably in the 2012 and 2014 championship matches. But, in the year between those two final clashes, the pair contested their greatest meeting in Paris at the semi-final stage.
Less than four months after spending seven months on the sidelines with a left knee injury, Nadal returned to Paris in red-hot form. The seven-time champion had reached finals in each of his opening eight comeback events, winning six trophies with 36 wins from 38 matches.
But, as the No. 4 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings, he would have to get past World No. 1 Djokovic to reach the championship match in Paris. Djokovic entered the contest with confidence, having ended Nadal’s streak of eight consecutive Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters crowns with a straight-sets final victory against the Spaniard in the Principality. The six-time Grand Slam champion was bidding to move one victory away from joining Nadal as the eighth man to complete the Career Grand Slam.
Across four hours and 37 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Nadal and Djokovic contested one of the greatest matches in their ATP Head2Head rivalry.
On a hot, blustery day in Paris, Nadal enjoyed success with his forehand and dominated the opening 75 minutes of the contest to lead by a set and a break. Facing the possibility of a two-set deficit, Djokovic responded emphatically in the next 25 minutes. With pinpoint groundstrokes into both corners of the court, the World No. 1 controlled the baseline and pushed his rival into defensive positions to earn five straight games and level the match.
Djokovic was unable to carry any momentum through to the third set, as Nadal claimed six of seven games to quickly move one set away from the championship match. In the fourth set, Nadal twice led by a break and served for the match at 6-5, only for Djokovic to win three straight points to force a tie-break. The 2012 runner-up dictated rallies throughout the tie-break and took the match to a decider with a driven cross-court forehand passing shot.
"Serving for the match at 6-5 in the fourth, I was serving against the wind, so I knew it was going to be a difficult game,” said Nadal.
For just the second time in his career, Nadal would have to contest a fifth set at Roland Garros. Only John Isner, in the first-round in 2011, had previously gone the distance with Nadal at the clay-court Grand Slam championship.
The reigning Australian Open champion imposed himself on Nadal’s serve in the opening game of the decider and held a break advantage until a crucial moment at 4-3. Serving at deuce, Djokovic hit a high forehand volley into the open court, but failed to stop himself from touching the net before the ball had bounced for a second time. The 26-year-old went on to drop his serve with a forehand error.
From 4-4, seven consecutive service holds followed before the match came to an abrupt end. Serving at 7-8, Djokovic’s hopes of joining Robin Soderling as the only man to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros were put on hold. The World No. 1 misjudged a passing shot from his opponent and committed three unforced errors to hand Nadal a famous 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7 victory.
"I was a little bit lucky in that game at 4-3, but I think I really fought a lot,” said Nadal. “In Australia, in 2012, it was a similar match and then he won. Today, it was me."
“It's been an unbelievable match to be part of, but all I can feel now is disappointment. That's it,” said Djokovic. “I congratulate him, because that's why he's a champion. That's why he's been ruling Roland Garros for many years, and for me it's another year.”
Nadal overcame countryman David Ferrer in the championship match to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an eighth time. Two years later, Djokovic became the second player to beat Nadal at Roland Garros with a straight-sets victory in the 2015 quarter-finals. The Serbian captured his maiden Roland Garros title in 2016 to become only the third player to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.