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TENNIS

Nadal prevails over Djokovic to reach all-Spanish final

Champion one step away from record eighth trophy at a Grand Slam Ferrer makes his first major final

Rafael Nadal celebrates after beating Novak Djokovic in Friday's French open semifinal.
Rafael Nadal celebrates after beating Novak Djokovic in Friday's French open semifinal. YOAN VALAT (EFE)

The keenly anticipated match-up between world number one Novak Djokovic and seven-times champion Rafael Nadal took a little while to turn from simmer to boil at Roland Garros but in a blazing finale that showcased the sublime talents of both players, the Spaniard edged past the Serb to reach his eighth French Open final and a consecutive ninth in nine tournaments played this year.

Nadal’s 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 9-7 victory leaves the world number four a single victory from becoming the first player in the history of the sport to win the same Grand Slam event eight times. Roger Federer and Pete Sampras are currently tied with the Spaniard on seven Wimbledon wins apiece.

David Ferrer, world-ranked five, managed on his sixth attempt to break the glass ceiling long guarded by the top four of the ATP Tour to reach his first-ever major final.

The Alicante man stunned the Parisian crowd as he raced to a one set lead against local hope Tsonga. The Frenchman steadied the ship in the second, forcing a tie-break, but Ferrer has been playing like a man possessed in Paris and duly took the set. Tsonga was limited to two games in the third as Ferrer wrapped up a 6-1, 7-6, 6-2 win to reach his first ever major final without dropping a single set in six matches.

Although history weighed heavily on the contest, Djokovic is arguably the only player able to go toe-to-toe with Nadal in the five-set format. The early exchanges augured a lengthy contest as both players pinged winners in line with their aggressive court policy. It took until the seventh game of the first set for either player to earn a break point, but Nadal required three to take a 4-3 lead, consolidating with a love hold.

I knew that was going to be a very tough game. I was ready for the fight"

With first blood having gone to the Spaniard, Djokovic gradually assumed control of the second set as his booming forehand found its range and errors began to creep into Nadal’s game, the champion following up on three errors at 3-2 with a double fault on deuce at 3-4. Djokovic made no mistake with a ferocious forehand to accept a rare invitation from the other side of the net.

It was an offer that would not repeated in the third, which Nadal won in just 37 minutes, breaking twice and committing three unforced errors to Djokovic’s 13. In total, the Serb won 12 points in the set.

But in the fourth set Djokovic showed why he is the world number one, recovering from a break at 3-3, secured when he spooned a forehand into the crowd, to break back immediately. Another overjudged forehand in the 11th game left Nadal a single hold from the final but Djokovic recovered from 15-30 and then carved out a 7-3 tiebreak win as the forehand winners started to flow once more.

The deciding set ensured that the match will go down in history as a classic encounter.

Djokovic earned a 2-0 lead and had chances to open up a 4-1 advantage that Nadal crushed with a trio of line-clipping forehand winners. At 4-3 the Spaniard earned an unlikely break point as Djokovic stumbled into the net after a smash, handing the point to Nadal. Although the Serb saved after a discussion with the chair umpire, Nadal would eventually break for 4-4. The set then reverted to serve until Nadal opened up three match points at 8-7, requiring just the one as Djokovic dumped a forehand long.

“Novak’s a fighter,” said Nadal after four hours and 37 minutes on court. “When I was serving for the match in the fourth, I was serving against the wind so I knew that was going to be a very tough game. I was ready for the fight. In Australia in 2012 it was a similar match and he won, today it’s me.”

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