Blood, Sweat & Fears: Djokovic Escapes To Set Nadal SF

  • Posted: Jun 09, 2021

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic left everything on the court as he withstood all of big-hitting Matteo Berrettini’s firepower to prevail 6-3, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 in a dramatic battle on Wednesday night. He booked a highly anticipated battle against 13-time champion Rafael Nadal for a place in the Roland Garros final.

Djokovic saved all three of the break points he faced against Berrettini on Court Philippe-Chatrier, which was rocking with fans during most of the night session for the first time in the fortnight after the city of Paris extended its nightly curfew to 11 p.m. 

But even as fans were cleared out from the stadium in the middle of the fourth set, even when the Serbian lost his footing and cut open his left hand upon resumption, Djokovic never lost focus. With blood staining his racquet handle, the top seed let out a roar when he clinched the victory after three hours and 28 minutes.

“This match had it all: falls, crowd, break. It was a lot of intensity. I just felt under tension the entire time,” Djokovic said. “It was just super, super stressful to constantly be under pressure on my service games, because his service games were quite smooth with the big serve.

“The reaction in the end was just me liberating that tension that was building up for the entire match.”

Djokovic and Nadal’s semi-final meeting, which will be a rematch of last year’s final, as well as the 2014 and 2012 championship matches, will be the 58th matchup of the ATP Tour’s most prolific rivalry. The World No. 1, who lifted the trophy here in 2016, is seeking to become the first man in the Open Era to win every Grand Slam title twice, while Nadal is in the hunt for an all-time record 21st Grand Slam crown. Djokovic leads Nadal 29-28 in their overall ATP Head2Head, while the Spaniard owns the 19-7 edge in clay-court matches. 

“The quality and the level of tennis that I’ve been playing in the last three, four weeks on clay – Rome, Belgrade and here – is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of that match,” Djokovic said. “I’m confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Let’s have a great battle.”

Djokovic’s victory over Berrettini also made him the second man in history to reach 40 Grand Slam semi-finals after Roger Federer. 

Most Grand Slam Men’s Singles SF Appearances (all-time)

 Player  Appearances
 Roger Federer   46
 Novak Djokovic  40
 Rafael Nadal  35
 Jimmy Connors  31
 Ivan Lendl  28

Djokovic, who faced a five-set battle against another Italian, #NextGenATP Lorenzo Musetti, in the previous round, needed a few games to get going against Berrettini, who enjoyed an extra day of rest after receiving a walkover from Roger Federer. 

With the fans willing on the Italian underdog, Berrettini raced out of the gates against Djokovic and used his booming groundstrokes to apply the pressure on his opponent’s serve. Berrettini created three break opportunities across Djokovic’s first four service games, but the World No. 1 held firm to save all three. 

Instead, it was Berrettini – who had only faced four break points in the whole tournament, and saved two of those points – who blinked first. The 2016 Roland Garros champion is one of the best returners in the game, and he was able to neutralise the Italian’s big serve. Djokovic forced his opponent to keep hitting one more ball, regularly forcing errors out of Berrettini – including a forehand that went long to hand him the decisive break at 2-1. 

Djokovic continued to pounce on the Berrettini second serve, allowing the Italian to win just 22 per cent (2/9) of those points, as he raised his level emphatically in the second set. Djokovic didn’t commit an unforced error until 5-2 on the scoreboard – by then, he was already up a double break and serving for the set.

But he was tested in the tight third set as Berrettini refused to wilt away. Djokovic was serving at a high level to stay in control, while the Italian saved one break point at 4-4 to keep them on serve as they went into a tie-break.

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Berrettini found more winners in the third set – 23 to Djokovic’s 14 – especially off the forehand wing, and that shot would prove to be the difference in the tie-break, earning him the first mini-break at 4/3. Djokovic battled back, leading by 5/4 and two points away from the match – but a forehand error followed by a backhand into the net, his fourth and fifth unforced errors of the set, gave Berrettini set point. The Italian converted with a searing forehand that Djokovic couldn’t handle to send them into a fourth set.

With both players on serve at 3-2, the match took another turn as the clock struck 11 p.m. in Paris, and fans had to clear out due to the city-wide curfew. After a 25-minute interruption, the players returned to a silent Chatrier – but there was more drama in store as Djokovic lost his footing and sliced his left hand open as Berrettini held serve. Djokovic never lost focus, despite being unable to bandage his hand in order to preserve his grip on the racquet. He stayed toe-to-toe with Berrettini, eventually earning three match points at 6-5, and outlasted the Italian from the baseline to seal the victory with a roar.

Berrettini was seeking to reach the semi-finals here for the first time, and equal his best Grand Slam performance (also 2019 US Open). He was also attempting to become just the second Italian man to take down the top seed at a Grand Slam in the Open Era – following in the footsteps of 1976 Roland Garros champion Adriano Panatta, who defeated No. 1 Bjorn Borg en route to the title.

“I’m really proud of myself, really proud of my team, what we achieved,” Berrettini reflected afterward. “I’m really happy, but at the same time I don’t want to stop here. I’m still young. This is my second quarter-finals in a Slam. I don’t want to stop here.”

Did You Know? 
Djokovic is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era – and only the third man in history – to win each of the four Grand Slams twice. Roy Emerson and Rod Laver are the only men to have won each Grand Slam on two or more occasions. 

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