The men’s world No. 1 became the first player to beat the “King of Clay” in the semi-finals at Roland Garros and also the first man to win a match against Nadal at Roland Garros after losing the first set.
After a thumping start when Nadal took a 5-0 lead in the first set, Djokovic regrouped and went on to deliver a tennis masterclass of power and stroke-play subtlety.
Djokovic claimed 50 winners, while Nadal made 55 unforced errors as he visibly struggled physically in the final stages of the match.
Nevertheless, Djokovic amply deserved his victory over Philippe-Chatrier, a court on which Nadal has often seemed invincible.
“It was a privilege to face Rafa in such an incredible game,” said Djokovic. “Tonight was my biggest game in Paris.”
Fans lucky enough to have tickets to this match were even allowed to stay until its conclusion, despite the semi-final exceeding a Covid-19 curfew at 11 p.m., which previously required spectators to leave Roland Garros itself. halfway through the game.
Fans in attendance cheered wildly when a Roland Garros official announced that public authorities had agreed to let spectators stay for the duration of the match.
“It was probably not my best day today, although I struggled,” Nadal said.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I was very lucky. There were crazy points but there was fatigue there.”
If Djokovic gets the upper hand over Tsitsipas, the Serbian will win his 19th Grand Slam title, which would put him just behind the record of 20 shared by Nadal and Roger Federer.
Nadal, a 13-time Roland Garros champion, saw his career French Open record slide to 105 wins and just three losses. Two of these three defeats came at the hands of Djokovic, against whom Nadal still leads the duel for life at Roland Garros, seven matches against two.
Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.