Rafael Nadal’s quest for a 14th Grand Slam title was dealt a huge blow after Novak Djokovic handed the Spaniard’s 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 defeat at Roland Garros on Friday.
Nadal suffered only his third French Open loss in his career, which spanned 108 matches.
Nadal had won the first five games of the match as he looked on course to repeat his drubbing of his rival in last year’s final.
But world number one Djokovic seized the momentum, winning the second set and then edging a pulsating 97-minute third set on a tiebreak, having saved a set point.
The soccer-style atmosphere created by a crowd of around 5,000 inside Court Philippe Chatrier reached a crescendo towards the end of the third set as the Paris COVID-19 curfew loomed.
Thankfully, the Parisian authorities granted an extension to the 11pm cut-off meaning the magnificent contest could continue to be graced by a live audience.
But there was no reprieve for the 35-year-old Nadal as his seemingly inexhaustible resolve was finally broken.
He hung on like the true champion he is but Djokovic, looking fresh despite nearly four hours slugging it out with the world’s greatest ever claycourter, ruthlessly closed in.
After breaking for a 4-2 lead the end came quickly as he inflicted first defeat on Nadal at the French Open since he beat him in the 2015 quarter-final.
Djokovic will play Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final with the chance to move to 19 Grand Slam titles, just one behind the men’s record 20 held by Nadal and Roger Federer.