Rafael Nadal beats Novak Djokovic in epic to reach French Open semi-final against Alexander Zverev

Rafael Nadal emerged victorious from another titanic French Open clash with Novak Djokovic to move one step closer to a record 22nd Grand Slam title.

Nadal, 13-time champion in Paris, showed all his fighting spirit and quality to win an exciting quarterfinal 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(3), the match lasted four hours and 12 minutes and ended at 1:15 local time.

The scoreline does not do justice to a remarkable competition, the 59th in the rivalry, which featured several gigantic games, jaw-dropping strikes, fluctuating swings in momentum, Nadal leading by a double break in the first three sets, an 84-minute into the second set, and Djokovic giving up two set points to force a decider – it all played out in a pulsating atmosphere on Court Philippe Chatrier even as the temperature dropped late at night.

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In the end, it was Nadal who came out on top, raising his arms in celebration as he booked his place in the last four against Alexander Zverev, who earlier beat Carlos Alcaraz in four sets.

“Novak is one of the best players in history without a doubt, so to always play against him is an incredible challenge with all the history we have together,” Nadal said afterwards.

“Today was different, and there is only one way to beat him: play your best from the first point to the last. Tonight has been one of those magical nights for me; an unexpected level but super happy.”

Nadal is now just two wins away from a 22nd Grand Slam title, which would put him two ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Tim Henman had called this the “biggest” men’s match of the last 10 years in the race to finish the most major titles, and there was tension and drama throughout.

The opening game set the tone, lasting 10 minutes and featuring an absorbing 22-shot rally, before Djokovic scored to give Nadal the early break.

From there, the Spaniard ran away with the set, breaking again for 4-1 with a brutal forehand down the line.

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Backed by a mostly vocal crowd, Nadal appeared to be in control of the competition, finding the mark with his serves and forcing Djokovic into mistakes.

Nadal did not give up after taking a 49-minute first set, the winners continued to fly as he created seven break chances in an epic opening game of the second set.

Finally the pressure kicked in, a forehand pinning Djokovic in the corner and Nadal deflecting a volley into the net to break.

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Nadal consolidated the break and then added another, sliding into a drop shot and knocking the return down the line for his 23rd winner and a 3-0 lead.

But after looking below his best in the first hour, Djokovic began to raise his level, hitting with more consistency and power on both flanks.

The World No. 1 broke 3-1 and then won an 18-minute sixth game, in which Nadal received a time violation for his serve, to get back on level terms.

The momentum seemed to be with Djokovic as he won a fourth game in a row, but Nadal crawled back to his best and played some brilliant points to hold for 4-4.

However, the 13-time champion was unable to fend off Djokovic in his next service game, missing twice in a row from the baseline to drop the set.

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But Djokovic came out flat to start the third set and fell behind 2-0. Another long hold saw Nadal take the lead to 3-1 and a poor service game from Djokovic saw him deliver another break.

The World No. 1 looked like a different player from the one who won the second set when the error count began to rise again, with a missed forehand handing Nadal the set.

With fans in the crowd wrapped in blankets as the temperature dropped, Djokovic showed his frustration as he hit the net after losing the point.

‘Let’s go!’ – Watch Djokovic hit the net with his racket as the crowd boos

But Djokovic then broke when Nadal’s dropshot landed wide, after the referee stopped it in an argument with the Spaniard.

Djokovic seemed poised to take the match to a fifth set with a 5-2 lead until Nadal found another level, saving two set points and bouncing back in an incredible game.

With the crowd in Chatrier cheering him on, Nadal increased the pace and found Djokovic in the mood.

Nadal took a 6-1 lead in the tie break when an error flew from Djokovic’s racket and, despite a comeback from the World No. 1, it was Nadal who scored a memorable victory.

Highlights: Nadal defeats Djokovic in French Open classic to reach semis

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