Rafael Nadal defeats Novak Djokovic and prolongs the adventure at Roland-Garros

They entered the court in May, they left it in June. And, at the end, as often at Roland-Garros, it is Rafael Nadal who raises his arms to the sky. After a breathless game, the Spanish player beat, on the night of Tuesday May 31 to Wednesday 1er June, his rival Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the Parisian tournament (6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 [4]). Possible last dance between two tennis giants, their 59e clash on the circuit ended after four hours and twelve minutes of play.

Relive the encounter: Rafael Nadal dismisses Novak Djokovic at the end of the night and climbs to the semi-finals

“To be honest, in every game I play, I don’t know if it will be my last here, at Roland-Garros, and in my career”, warned Rafael Nadal before the match. Although he abhors evening sessions, the Majorcan started the game as if he wanted to spin into orbit. Forgot the foot injury doing it “living with pain” everyday for years and this body with soon thirty-six springs. In front of his entire clan, a sign that they too feel the finish line getting closer, the Spaniard pushed back the inexorable.

Old couple knowing each other by heart, Nadal and Djokovic still manage to surprise each other. We thought Nadal tired by his long confrontation with the Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime in the previous round? He attacks without sparing himself, seeming to seek the K.-O. of entry. Facing the Serb, one of the few to have found the key to defeating him on his favorite surface, the Mallorcan knows that any imprecision, any hesitation will be exploited at will.

So, finding his shots of yesteryear at the formidable depth, Nadal took control of the exchanges. In 2020, this strategy had paid off, Rafa had corrected his rival, in the final of the Paris tournament. In 2021, it was not enough: despite a pocketed first set, Nadal had ceded his crown to Djokovic in half.

An audience in unison behind “Rafa”

This 59e will the summit clash be the last? He had the smell of it. The Parisian evening crowd was not mistaken. If Nadal has not always been spared by the public at Roland-Garros, who preferred the aesthetics of Roger Federer to him or simply an outsider, time does its job. And, at a time when the Manacor player slips through press conferences that this could be his last dance at Roland-Garros, Paris prefers vertigo to silence. And pushed the “king of clay” to extend his reign until the end of the night.

Once again reduced to the role of the hero’s adversary, Novak Djokovic did not disassemble. The title holder ended up flourishing in this unloved role, he who suffered so much to collect only the crumbs left by Federer and Nadal.

Read also (in 2021): Article reserved for our subscribers Novak Djokovic or the perpetual quest for glory

Revanchist against an opponent who has regained his precision as a clay court surveyor, the world number 1 has not given up. “I didn’t start well, but, coming back to one round everywhere, I thought I was back”, exposed the Serb after the meeting. In turn, after having started the second set badly, Djokovic took control of a part while offbeat, where the two dancers were never in rhythm. Hampered in his quest for greatness at the Australian Open by the country’s health rules – and his choice not to be vaccinated against Covid-19 – the Serb did not intend to give up his title without a fight.

“Come on Rafa, the most obstinate is you”, claimed a spectator at the start of the third set. Reference to the quote from Roland-Garros engraved since this year on the frontispiece of the Philippe-Chatrier court, “Victory belongs to the most obstinate”. In this matter, the “bull of Manacor” would even be almost obstinate.

If by chance Nadal won a fourteenth title at Porte d’Auteuil on Sunday, the Spaniard could engrave “without a future” on the ocher of the central court, as long as he inflicts himself to be, at all costs, at the rendezvous you this year, makes its future uncertain. ” I said [lors du tournoi de] Rome that I was going to have my doctor with me here. And that having my doctor here allows me to do things that give me relief”blew the man to twenty-one Grand Slam trophies.

“I don’t know what will happen next”

Handicapped for years by necrosis of the scaphoid bone – Muller-Weiss syndrome – in his left foot, which leaves him little respite, Nadal does not hide that the treatments he receives could accelerate his end of career. “I’m giving everything I have to try to play this tournament in the best possible conditions. I don’t know what can happen next, he summarizes. But here, I think it will be fine. »

For his part, Novak Djokovic has not “not surprised at all” by the umpteenth rebirth of his rival. “It’s not the first time he’s shown himself to be 100 per cent able to come back, and physically ready, days after being injured and barely able to walk. found the world number 1. He’s done it many times in his career. »

On the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, the Serb had the opportunity to equalize in two sets everywhere, but failed to materialize. Conversely, after a decisive one-sided game, his Spanish opponent won the match without trembling.

“He managed to play his best tennis at the key moments, he deserves this victory, without a doubt”, acknowledged Djokovic, who still leads, thirty wins to twenty-nine, in their mano to mano. Two steps from a new coronation, and after his demonstration in the quarters, Rafael Nadal will be favorite for the semi-final against the German Alexander Zverev (world number 3), Friday June 3, and for a possible final.

“It was a very intense night. It is for these moments that I still play”, smiled the winner. If the meeting had the trappings of a final, because of the “great shared history” linking the two men, Nadal, who will turn 36 on Friday, does not believe he has arrived. “It’s only a quarter-final, I haven’t won anything”insists the Spaniard, for whom “the main objective is to maintain the level at which I played today”.

There is something reassuring in hearing Rafael Nadal’s groans punctuate the exchanges. At Roland-Garros, where they have rocked the public since 2005, they have the reassuring taste of a madeleine. The day the Majorcan puts his racket away, his cries will always haunt the center court, memories of his glory years. If that day is getting closer, Nadal has, once again, postponed the deadline. “I just gave myself the opportunity to come back to this court in two days”savored the player, who did not skimp on his ” thanks thanks thanks “ to the public at the end of the match.

Very masculine evening sessions

The final evening session of the 2022 edition of Roland-Garros, Wednesday June 1, will see the Norwegian Casper Ruud face off against the young Danish sensation, Holger Rune. That is a ninth men’s match in ten evenings: only the meeting between the Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet and the 2017 winner, Jelena Ostapenko, managed to sneak in.

“Last year, there were two or three women’s matches [en session de soirée] and it seemed logical to me, ”said Amélie Mauresmo, when asked about Eurosport, before the start of the tournament. The new tournament director, consultant in 2021 for Amazon Prime Video, which broadcasts these evening meetings, admitted on ESPN to have favored men: “We pay attention to the most beautiful matches, men or women combined. (…) But it’s true that we schedule more men’s matches, because it offers a longer show. »

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