Posted on June 01 2022
59 times over 17 years, the Novak and Rafa rivalry is as thrilling as ever. The legendary pair met at the quarter finals of the 2022 French Open last night, delivering an instant classic. Nadal hinted that if he lost, it could have been his last match at the French Open. As he begged the organizers to schedule the match at an earlier time (which didn't suit Djokovic's game because the ball bounces lower when the temperatures drop) the new French Open tournament director Amelie Mauresmo and her scheduling committee stuck to their original time (9pm Paris). Nadal came out first, to a delightful reception at the Court Philippe Chatrier. Djokovic followed, to a mixed reception with boos. John McEnroe commented on the reception saying 'It blows. It's crazy. Come on! They may never see this match again.'
Nadal came out hungry, winning the first 11 games, leading by a set and 3-0 with a double break. Though many of the games had been fairly tight, and some of the rallies seemed interminable. But as the night went on, the temperatures started to drop, which handed an advantage to Djokovic. He fought back to level at 3-3 after a sixth game lasting almost 19 minutes. Lengthy games followed, and the second set eventually fell to Djokovic, after Nadal cracked a forehand long on the second set point. Nadal claimed a bathroom break after the second set to come out firing again, moving into a 4-1 lead.
Nadal served out for a two-sets-to-one advantage, as the night grew colder in Paris. A few plot twists followed, with Djokovic breaking for a 2-0 lead early in the fourth set. But he missed two set points when serving at 5-3, and he was undoubtedly punished for this, with Nadal setting up a tie break. Nadal's explosive power didn't falter here, but it was a backhand winner that eventually ended the match. Nadal soaked in the acclaim of a jubilant Chatrier, after a four hour encounter that saw May ending and June beginning. "It was an emotional night and I still play for nights like tonight," said Nadal, who won seven of 17 break points and saved eight of 12 for Djokovic. "But it is just a quarter-final and I still have a semi-final to come. I will stay emotionally stable and get ready for the semi-final."
In an overall sense, it was a gripping match with some ferocious rallies and explosive power. Like two old warriors heading into their last battle, there was also frailty and pride on display. But perhaps a lack of intense matches cost Djokovic the win last night. He had not played a match longer than three sets since September's US Open semi-final. His season has been controversial due to his vaccination status, and he has struggled to find momentum. "He was the better player in the important moments, he started well and I didn't start so well," said Djokovic. "I gained momentum in the second set and I thought I was back in the game. But he was able to take his tennis to another level."
Unfortunately for Djokovic, Nadal is two wins away from a 22nd Gram Slam title win. He advances to a record-extending 15th Roland-Garros semi-final, where he will meet No.3 seed Alexander Zverev. Djokovic will get ready for Wimbledon in the meantime. What we can take from this classic, is the mentality of tennis elites. “He showed why he's a great champion. You know, staying there mentally tough and finishing the match the way he did" said Djokovic. Check out our Babolat products here, including Rafa's latest racket! And remember to tune in the 2022 French Open semi finals in the next few days!