Djokovic stuns king of clay Nadal to reach French Open final

Spaniard loses at Roland Garros for only the third time

epa09263603 Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates winning against Rafael Nadal of Spain during their semi final match at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 11 June 2021.  EPA/YOAN VALAT
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Novak Djokovic bounced back from a set down to inflict the third-ever defeat of Rafael Nadal at the French Open.

The Serbian came through a spellbinding semi-final 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 in front of a raucous crowd on Friday.

Nadal, bidding for a record-extending 14th title on the Parisian clay, won the first five games of the match as he looked on course to repeat his drubbing of the Serb in last year's final.

But world No 1 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 football-style atmosphere created by a crowd of around 5,000 inside Court Philippe Chatrier reached a fever pitch towards the end of the third set as the Paris Covid curfew loomed.

Thankfully, Parisian authorities granted an extension to the 11pm cut-off, meaning the magnificent contest could continue to be graced by an in-stadium audience.

But there was no reprieve for the 35-year-old Nadal as his seemingly inexhaustible resolve was eventually 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 Nadal's first defeat 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, one behind the men's record 20 held by Nadal and Roger Federer.