Novak Djokovic ended Rafael Nadal’s reign at the French Open with a four-set win in a classic semi-final which will be ranked among the all-time great matches on the Roland Garros clay.
Serbian top seed Djokovic won 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 in over four hours against defending champion Nadal.
The 35-year-old Spaniard, going for a record-extending 14th title, lost there for only the third time in 108 matches.
Djokovic, 34, must now recover to play Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.
The 22-year-old Greek reached his first Grand Slam final by beating German sixth seed Alexander Zverev in a five-set epic earlier on Friday.
Fifth seed Tsitsipas must surely have been watching, like the rest of the tennis world was, as two of the all-time greats fought out a brutal battle for the right to face him in the showpiece.
The high-quality match was full of drama and suspense, twists and turns, throughout as it was played in front of 5,000 fans, who were allowed to stay despite France’s 11pm curfew as part of its coronavirus restrictions.
That decision came after a remarkable 96-minute third set which saw Djokovic hold his nerve to win a tie-break on which the whole match seemed to hinge.
Nadal did break serve in the first game of the fourth set and led 2-0, but could not cope with Djokovic’s sky-high level as he quickly won the next six games to wrap up victory.
Djokovic looked shattered as he raised his arms in celebration, then wearily broke into a smile as he prepared for the on-court interview given by the winner.
“To win against Rafa on this court you have to play your best tennis, and tonight I played my best tennis,” said the Djokovic, who could now win his 19th Grand Slam title and go one behind Nadal and Federer’s all-time men’s record.
“It’s hard to find the words to sum up how I feel. You tell yourself there is no pressure but there is. Pressure is a privilege – to test my game and my character in matches like this.”