Nadal beats Djokovic in four-hour epic to set up semi with Zverev at French Open

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In a match for the ages, Rafael Nadal dispatched the top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic in four gripping sets of pulsating tennis.

The match began just after 9pm on Tuesday night and finished in legend.

Djokovic, who had described playing Nadal on clay as the most difficult task in the sport, started their 59th meeting on the ATP circuit out of sorts.

He lost his opening service game after a 10-minute tussle. And the Spaniard struck again to claim his service and lead 4-1.

The 13-time champion wrapped up the opener after 49 minutes. And also surged into a 3-0 lead with a double break in the second. But he faltered while serving for 4-0.

Djokovic clawed his way back with some brutal hitting off both flanks. And he levelled at 3-3 following an 18-minute game of searing intensity.

Djokovic's power and aggression began to take their toll on a seemingly leaden footed Nadal. It was the Serb controlling the exchanges.

And he claimed the second set with just over two hours on the clock.

Another titanic battle was in motion. And for the third consecutive set, Nadal secured the double break to lead 4-1.

Power

He duly carried it off despite some big hitting from Djokovic. One forehand blast down the line whistled past Nadal to save one set point but a ferocious forehand cross court flew wide and Nadal was 2-1 up after three hours.

Djokovic's way back started early in the fourth set. He broke Nadal to lead 2-0 and confirmed the advantage with little fuss.

He did not face a break point until he served for the set at 5-3. And he saw off the impertinence with a drop shot and back hand volley.

Chance

A second came Nadal's way and the set was back on serve.

After three hours and 47 minutes, would Nadal level at 5-5? Yes.

And then how would Djokovic respond. With clinical precision and punishing ground strokes. And a classy volley.

Trailing 5-6, Nadal stepped up to serve to save the set for a third time. Succes anew.

Into the tiebreak after four hours and one minute. Nadal soared away. He won six of the seven points to boast five match points.

Djokovic whittled three of them away but a backhand winner clinched the tie after four hours and 11 minutes.

Champion

"He showed why he's a great champion," said Djokovic. "He stayed there even when he was down. I know that I could have played better but I lost to a better player. I gave everything for more than four hours. I just have to accept this defeat."

Nadal will meet third seed Alexander Zverev in the semi-final after the 25-year-old German beat the Spanish 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in four sets.

"I'm very emotional," Nadal told on-court interviewer Marion Bartoli. "Playing against Novak is always an amazing challenge. You have to play well from the first point to the last.

It's incredible to play here. The support for me ... everyone knows how important this tournament is to me."

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