Nine-Time Winner Nadal Dethroned by Djokovic at French Open

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Rafael Nadal & Novak Djokovic
Rafael Nadal, left, with Novak Djokovic at the end of their 2015 French Open match. Photographer: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic finally overcame Rafael Nadal at the French Open, handing the nine-time champion only his second defeat on the clay of Roland Garros.

The top-ranked Serb beat Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 on the main Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris Wednesday. Djokovic will play Andy Murray in the semifinals after the third-seeded Briton beat Spain’s David Ferrer, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 5-7, 6-1. Djokovic has beaten Murray 18 times in 26 matches including this year’s Australian Open final.

“It’s not a big surprise,” Nadal said in a news conference 20 minutes after his defeat. “I didn’t win enough before here. When the opponent plays better than you and is in better shape than you, then (that) can happen. I just congratulate him.”

Djokovic hit 45 winners, while Nadal managed only 16. The Serb won 102 points overall, compared with 71 for the Spaniard. Nadal got broken seven times and Djokovic dropped serve twice.

Nadal, the most successful clay-court player of his generation with 46 titles, entered the tournament he dominated for the past decade without a single victory during the European clay-court season for the first time in his career. He’ll drop to No. 10 next week, and may even be ranked even lower should France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reach the final.

After missing the second part of 2014 with a wrist injury followed by an appendix operation, Nadal has struggled to find the form that brought him 14 Grand Slam championships. This season, he lost to players he beat easily in the past and experimented with a new racket before switching back to the old one.

“I have a lot of respect for Rafa, he’s not been playing at his usual level all season,” Djokovic said in a courtside interview after he won on a double fault. “But he’s still a champion, it’s always a pleasure to play against him.”

Career Slam

Djokovic’s win moves him closer to completing the career grand slam of all four majors. The 28-year-old has won five Australian Open titles, two Wimbledon championships and one U.S. Open trophy. He’s lost only twice all season and extended his win streak to 27 matches today.

Before today, Djokovic had won five of their last six matches, while Nadal had beaten him in all six meetings at Roland Garros, including last year’s final. It was the 44th meeting between the pair, the most ever in men’s tennis, and only the first time they’ve played before the semifinals of a knockout event since 2007.

Nadal, who turns 29 today, won the French Open in his first appearance in 2005. Eight more titles followed, interrupted only by a defeat to Sweden’s Robin Soderling in the fourth round in

2009.

Today’s program at Roland Garros predicted the match would “make the earth tremble.”

Instead, the crowd watched in stunned silence as Djokovic rattled off the first four games of the match after Nadal dropped the ball short. Urged by his physical trainer from his private box to move around more, the momentum of the match shifted after and Nadal began to dictate points as Djokovic screamed at his box.

Serving to stay in the set at 5-4 down, Nadal saved three set points. Serving at 6-5 down, he saved two more before handing Djokovic the first set after one hour, 7 minutes with a drop shot that landed wide.

Straight Sets

After Nadal saved three more set points, Djokovic took a two sets to love lead with a forehand on his fourth set point that drew the error.

The match ran away from Nadal after he dropped serve in the opening game of the third set with a sloppy forehand volley. Trailing 4-0, Nadal stopped a run of six straight games for the Serb as he finally held. Serving to stay in the tournament at 5-1 down, the crowd once again grew quiet as Djokovic set up three match points with a forehand return winner off a weak second serve. Nadal’s second double fault of the match handed Djokovic his first win against the Spaniard at Roland Garros.

“Not happy about my first set, obviously,” Nadal said.“The second, yes. I was there. I lost a game. That’s it. Good fight in the first. Good fight in the second. In the third, I am not happy about the way, but I tried.”

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