12-time French Open winner Rafael Nadal has rarely been stretched at Roland-Garros, and holds 93-2 win-loss record on that surface. So when was the last time the Spaniard was forced into a fifth set at the French Open and how did things go?
The 2013 French Open semi-final match between Nadal and Novak Djokovic was one of the best matches to be played on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Nadal was the three-time defending champion and was looking for his eighth title in Paris. A few weeks earlier Djokovic had dethroned the Spaniard from the crown of Monte Carlo.
The match in Paris was much awaited and fully lived up to its expectations for four hours and 37 minutes. We rewind in time to look at that epic contest between these two gladiators of tennis.
Unparalleled Drama and Intensity
From the first set that match appeared to be tight and intense. Novak the top seed had lost just one set in his journey to the semis.
That would change in the first set itself when Nadal broke him and got the early lead. The seven-time champion was up and running for an entry in yet another final as he won the first set 6-4.
Djokovic, however, was not going to let this chance go away so easily and showed steely resolve in taking the second set 6-3 by breaking Nadal midway. The Serb had thus put himself on level terms in the match.
In the third set Nadal reversed the tide.
The King of Clay would dominate the set from start to finish. The three-time defending champion broke Novak serve twice and ran through the set 6-1 and the writing seemed to be on the wall for the Serb.
And when, in the fourth set Nadal was leading by a break, it looked like everything was all over bar the shouting as he looked to close in on yet another Roland Garros final.
The top-seeded Djokovic however exhibited his mettle, by breaking back and then winning the tiebreaker. A fifth set beckoned.
It was only the second time in 59 matches Rafa was taken to five sets at the French Open. Incidentally, up to that point he had been beaten just once at Roland-Garros, a shock loss to Robin Soderling.
A One-Set Shootout for the Final
The final set saw play rise to impossible levels.
Both players fought tooth and nail with no one was ready to give an inch.
Novak had broken Rafa to race ahead in the early stages. At 4-3 with a deuce, the Serb touched the net while trying to play a cheeky winner. He would then get broken back and the match was again evenly poised at 4-4.
The tension became tangible and the level of play going further many notches up. In the 16th game of the set Novak made a few costly errors. That gave Nadal three match points and courtesy a long forehand from the Serb, Rafa won the match and booked his place in yet another final in Paris.
Djokovic however was applauded by the crowd including Toni Nadal for displaying great courage and character.
What They Said Later
The defending champion appeared to have relieved after surviving a great challenge and getting a chance to lift yet another French Open trophy. He said:
“I was ready for the fight and had a little bit of luck at 4-3. In Australia in 2012 it was similar and he won. Everybody knows Novak is a fighter.”
Djokovic looked both exhausted and frustrated but was ready to give credit to his great rival. The Serb told the press:
“It was an unbelievable match to be a part of. I congratulate my opponent because he showed great courage at the right moments.”
What Happened Next?
Two days later Nadal would beat his compatriot David Ferrer in the final to lift the eight Roland Garros trophy. Djokovic achieved both his dreams of beating Rafa in Paris in 2015 and winning the French Open in 2016.
The 2013 semi-final is regarded by many as the best French Open match and one of the best matches ever played.