The third-seeded Nadal defeated the top-seeded Serb, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 9-7 in 4 hours, 37 minutes on two days ago at Roland Garros in Paris after trailing 4-2 in the final set.
Nadal, who returned in February from a seven-month break because of a knee injury, said he much preferred to be sweating it out on a tennis court than being relegated to the sideline.
“You need to love what you are doing and appreciate every moment,” Nadal said in a news conference. “I have learned to enjoy suffering in these matches, because what is much harder is to be at home in Mallorca, watching these matches on TV.”
Nadal, 27, faces Ferrer for the title today. The fourth-seeded Ferrer beat France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, in the other semifinal. Tsonga was trying to become the first Frenchman to win the event since Yannick Noah 30 years ago.
Ferrer, 31, has lost 19 of 23 matches against Nadal.
“I am good, I am not tired, I’ll need that against Nadal,” Ferrer said in a courtside interview after he reached his first Grand Slam final without losing a set.
After losing in the second round at Wimbledon to then 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic a year ago, Nadal was sidelined while recovering from a partially torn patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee. The injury forced him to miss the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
The left-handed Nadal hit 61 winners two days ago, seven more than Djokovic.
“He showed the courage in the right moments and went for his shots, and when he was break down in the fifth he made some incredible shots from the baseline,” Djokovic said in a news conference. “I congratulate him, because that’s why he’s a champion. That’s why he’s been ruling Roland Garros for many years, and for me it’s another year.”
Nadal won his first French championship in 2005 and has lost just once on the clay in Paris -- in 2009 to Sweden’s Robin Soderling in the fourth round. He’s trying to become the first man to win eight Roland Garros titles in the professional era.
Djokovic has now lost five times to Nadal in Paris, including last year’s final. It’s the only Grand Slam title he’s yet to win.
“He will win here one year,” Nadal said.
Battling from the baseline in long rallies, they were even through the first 40 minutes. Nadal then broke serve on a forehand error and held at love for the second time. Serving at 5-4, Nadal took the set on a return error.
Put under pressure by Nadal’s high-kicking topspin groundstrokes that left him unable to attack from the baseline, Djokovic let out a roar after a missed backhand early in the second set.
Nadal seemed to take control after breaking for a 3-2 lead, only to drop his own serve for the first time in the next game. Djokovic later yelped and turned toward friends and family after he broke serve for the second time with a forehand winner. A backhand error by Nadal then tied the match at one set each.
The momentum shifted as Nadal won five straight games, going up 2-0 on an overrule by the umpire. Television replays using the Hawkeye electronic line-calling system -- which isn’t utilized at Roland Garros -- showed the ball had been in.
Down 0-3, Djokovic briefly left the court for a bathroom break. Serving at 5-1, 40-0, Nadal was docked a point for taking too much time. The Spaniard then won the third set on a backhand error.
Nadal was twice unable to take advantage of breaks in the fourth set. The Spaniard had been two points away from victory at 6-5 when he shanked a forehand and then dropped his serve on a forehand winner by Djokovic.
“I had to serve against the wind,” Nadal said. “Tricky situation. I was too aggressive with my forehand, I tried to hit a winner.”
Djokovic forced a fifth set when he took the tiebreaker with a blistering, sliding forehand that landed straight at Nadal’s feet.
Nadal lost serve again in the opening game of the deciding set. Trailing 4-2, he fought back to 4-4. Djokovic then complained to supervisor Stefan Fransson at 7-6 in the fifth set about why the court hadn’t been watered during changeovers.
“Was too slippery,” he said. “Difficult to change direction. I just don’t understand. That’s it. I think that it’s wrong what they did.”
Nadal later said the umpire had asked him if he wanted the courts watered.
“Seems like the rule is both players had to agree on putting water on the court if it’s in the middle of one set,” Nadal said. “I say, I prefer not. But if they put water, I wouldn’t have said anything against it.”
Returning serve with the wind at his back at 8-7, Nadal got to three match points as Djokovic struck a forehand long. Another error, his 75th of the match, put Nadal in the final.
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