Novak Djokovic has relived the drama that befell him at the Australian Open, successfully negotiating a pandemic-related match suspension before finally booking a date against Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-finals.
- Novak Djokovic took three and a half hours to beat Matteo Berretini at Roland Garros
- Djokovic’s win marked the 40th time he has made the semi-finals of a grand slam
- He will meet Rafael Nadal, who lost his first set at the French Open since 2019 in a win over Diego Schwartzman
With Djokovic leading two sets to one, and up 3-2 in the third against Italian Matteo Berrettini, up to 5,000 fans were enraged to have to leave Roland Garros just before 11:00pm on Wednesday night as a city-wide curfew began in Paris.
Fans were expected to leave at 10:45pm but many did not, which meant play had to be interrupted on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
A number of people in the stands started chanting: “We’ve paid, we’ll stay.”
At 10:55pm both players packed their bags and walked off down the tunnel while fans jeered and one shouted out “Rip-off!”
There was a 20-minute delay. When the players returned, Djokovic, now playing in an empty arena against a ferocious hitter whose comeback from two sets down had been fuelled by the crowd’s noisy support, went on to win 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5 to advance to his 40th grand slam semi-final, against Rafael Nadal.
The match was on the final night session of the tournament. Previously, Paris had been on a 9:00pm curfew, meaning all night games took place without fans.
However a change in the rules had pushed the curfew back to 11:00pm, allowing fans to watch the start of the match, but not the finish.
The bizarre occasion was reminiscent of Djokovic’s third-round win over Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open in February, when the stadium was evacuated and play suspended mid-match as Victoria went into lockdown.
Djokovic, who was struggling with injury on that occasion, won that match before going on to take the title.
After the resumption in Paris, Djokovic took a heavy tumble when trying to retrieve a Berrettini forehand. But he was almost maniacally determined to win, letting out astonishing primal screams once he’d sealed victory on his third match point after almost three and a half hours.
It had been a day when both Nadal and Djokovic had shown rare frailty.
The Spaniard — astonishingly — actually lost a set at Roland Garros, and Djokovic blew the chance of a straight-sets win.
Yet by the time the red dust had settled, the two experienced masters had produced enough glorious brush strokes to set up their 58th meeting.
Nadal was quite majestic once he’d recovered from the shock of having a set nicked off him at Roland Garros for the first time since 2019, blitzing Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in two hours 45 minutes.
Djokovic was just as brilliant, but the world number one, on the verge of a routine win at 5-4 up in the third set tiebreaker, suddenly coughed up two feeble netted errors to allow Berrettini, who’d been growing in confidence, to grab the set.
After the delay, though, Djokovic set up a repeat of last year’s final, which was won in straight sets by Nadal for his 13th title.
Earlier, Schwartzman, the diminutive Argentine with a considerable talent and an even bigger heart, could hardly have played better or given any more of himself — but was still eventually blown away.
Such is the nature of mini-victories over Nadal that Schwartzman’s magnificent performance in ending the Spaniard’s run of 36 consecutive winning sets at the Paris major felt almost worthy of a trophy in its own right.
But as he always seems to on the clay, Nadal, 4-3 down in the pivotal third set, found another gear, winning the final nine games for the loss of just seven points.