Djokovic didn’t get the possibility to play in this 12 months’s Australian Open. He was deported on the eve of the competitors after a standoff with the Australian authorities over his being unvaccinated towards Covid-19. But he arrived in Paris and at Tuesday’s match in extra convincing type than Nadal, who’s certainly the best males’s clay-court participant in historical past however was very quick on matches on the floor this 12 months.
Nadal injured his ribs on the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., in March, dropping the ultimate to the American Taylor Fritz whereas enjoying with a stress fracture. He missed a lot of the early clay-court season and solely returned for the Madrid Open in mid-May, when he was upset by his 19-year-old Spaniard compatriot, Carlos Alcaraz, in the quarterfinals.
Then got here the Italian Open, his solely different clay-court occasion earlier than Roland Garros, the place Nadal was overwhelmed in three units by Denis Shapovalov of Canada in a round-of-16 evening match in Rome in which he hobbled to the end, grimacing in ache as his continual left foot situation resurfaced. He was downbeat after that defeat however didn’t rule out enjoying in the French Open and arrived in Paris seeded fifth and together with his longtime doctor, Angel Ruiz-Cotorro.
As so usually, Nadal proved capable of play and prevail by way of the ache, preventing to a five-set victory in the fourth spherical over the 21-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime after which taking up Djokovic for the 59th time on tour and the tenth time at Roland Garros.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Djokovic stated after the match. “It’s not the first time that he, you know, is able to a few days after he’s injured and barely walking to come out 100 percent physically fit. You know, he’s done it many times in his career, so I’m not surprised.”
A 12 months in the past, in one other stirring evening match, Djokovic defeated Nadal in 4 units on his strategy to the title. But this 12 months, Nadal turned the tables even when Djokovic, who served for the fourth set, was twice just one level away from forcing a fifth. But on the primary set level, Djokovic misplaced an prolonged rally by hitting a backhand into the online. On the second, he determined to be extra aggressive however his method shot was extra hopeful than good and Nadal ran to his proper and smacked a backhand passing shot winner that Djokovic was by no means near reaching.
It was quickly 5-5 in the fourth set and Nadal took fast command of the following tiebreaker, simply as he had taken fast command of the match, leaping out to a 6-1 lead after which holding on and shutting out the victory on his fourth match level with one other backhand winner.