PARIS - Novak Djokovic crushed nine-time champion Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 to move into the French Open semi-finals Wednesday, condemning the great Spaniard to just his second defeat in 72 matches at Roland Garros. It was world number one and top seed Djokovic’s first win over defending champion Nadal in seven meetings in Paris, avenging his defeats in the 2012 and 2014 finals.
It also eased Djokovic, who fired 45 winners to Nadal’s 16, closer to a first French Open title and a career Grand Slam. He will play his 26th major semi-final on Friday against British third seed Andy Murray who saw off Spain’s 2013 runner-up David Ferrer 7-6 (7/4), 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 to make the last four for the third time.
“I have great respect for Rafa, he’s a true champion and it’s always a pleasure to play him,” said 28-year-old Djokovic after wrapping up his 27th successive win this year. “I knew I had to be aggressive and stay concentrated on every point. That’s not easy to do against a man who had only lost once here in his career. It’s an incredible day, I am very happy and I want to continue like this.”
For Nadal, it was a sobering way to mark his 29th birthday with the comprehensive loss placing a serious question mark over whether he will be able to achieve his dream of a 10th French Open crown. The defeat, just his second in Paris in a decade after a fourth-round exit to Robin Soderling in 2009, could also see him slip out of the world top 10 for the first time since 2005.
“I had my moments, but he controlled most of the match. This can happen when your opponent plays better and is in better shape,” said Nadal. “It’s not a big surprise that I didn’t win. I lost also in 2009 and today in 2015, but I hope to be back next year with another chance.” In a marathon 67-minute first set in their 44th career meeting, Djokovic raced into a 4-0 lead, allowing Nadal just four points.
But the sixth seed roared back to 4-4, finally finding his range with his trusty forehand. Nadal faced down three set points in the 10th game, also shrugging off a time warning from umpire Cedric Mourier for exceeding the 20-second limit between points. After a 12-minute game, Nadal held for 5-5 and saved two more set points in the 12th game before Djokovic sealed it with a low, searing cross-courter which Nadal could only push wide.
Djokovic continued to have Nadal under siege in the second set, breaking for 5-3. Nadal saved three set points in the ninth game, but he was powerless on the fourth. Djokovic set it up with a breathtaking, no-look backhand volley and converted it into a two-set lead when Nadal netted another tired drive. It was the first time in his career the Spaniard had lost the first two sets of a French Open match.
He looked and played like a beaten man in the third set as Djokovic raced into a decisive 4-0 lead and the Serb claimed victory on Nadal’s second double fault of the tie. Murray made it 15 consecutive wins on clay this year by beating the number seven seed Ferrer. “I was frustrated at the end of the third set because I had match points and it’s very difficult to then play a full set more after that,” said Murray, the first British player to reach the semi-finals three times.
On the prospect of facing Djokovic, he added: “It’s going to be an extremely tough match but I hope it’s a good one. “I’m going to need to play a high quality match to have a chance.”
In a remarkable first set on Court Suzanne Lenglen there were six breaks of serve — three apiece — before Murray won it in a tiebreak. Murray took the second 6-2, breaking his opponent twice, and looked set to go on and secure victory with the minimum of fuss.
The Scot was 3-0 up in the third before he let Ferrer back in. First Murray failed to convert a match point at 5-4 up on Ferrer’s serve and then he was broken in the next game as the Spaniard forced a fourth set. However, he could not maintain the fightback and the 28-year-old Murray ran away with the set, taking it 6-1 to seal victory after three hours, 16 minutes.