The King of Clay Rafael Nadal will meet world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the French Open men’s final.
Djokovic had to defend resolutely to outlast big-hitting Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 6-2 5-7 4-6 6-1 in an enthralling contest on Friday to advance to the final at Roland Garros.
The 12-time French Open champion and No.2 seed Nadal is bidding to equal Roger Federer’s record men’s haul of 20 grand slam singles titles on Sunday.
“Here, he (Nadal) is the favourite, it’s his home here. With all the titles he’s won … but in 2015 I won here against him in the quarter-finals,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.
“I hope I can recuperate, I need my best tennis. It’s maybe the biggest challenge in our sport to play Nadal at Roland Garros. I look forward to it, I’m happy to be here and motivated to win.”
Djokovic, whose 2016 Roland Garros triumph features among his 17 major titles, had a match point in the third set but saw the 22-year-old Tsitsipas fight back spectacularly to level the match at two sets apiece.
Tsitsipas, seeded fifth, ran out of steam in the deciding set but saved another match point before the 33-year-old sealed the win with a crushing service return in three hours and 54 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“We have to congratulate Stefanos for this great battle. In the end he was tired obviously, it was not easy after four hours,” Djokovic said. “He’s a very good player and I wish him well for his career.
“I was calm on the surface but inside it was something totally different. I thought that after losing the third set, and the fourth, I was still solid.”
Earlier Nadal registered a comfortable 6-3 6-3 7-6 (7-0) victory over Diego Schwartzman.
Nadal was beaten by the Argentine 12th seed a little over two weeks ago in Rome but the 12-time Roland Garros champion showed he was still the undisputed ‘King of Clay’ as he notched up a 10th win in 11 meetings over the game but outclassed Schwartzman.
The Spaniard reached his 13th French Open final without dropping a set in this year’s edition.
Schwartzman, playing his first grand slam semi-final, had two break points in the opening game but Nadal saved both to win the game after battling for 14 minutes.
The Spaniard went on to break the Argentine twice in each of the first two sets.
The duo traded double service breaks in the third set before Nadal aced the tiebreak without losing a point.
Schwartzman found the net with a return to hand Nadal victory in three hours and nine minutes.
“With these conditions it’s very difficult, and it’s still incredible to be in the final again. Thanks to my team, my family. It’s a beautiful moment for me,” said Nadal, who has now progressed to the final without losing a set for the sixth time.
“I know with Diego it’s very difficult until the end. He’s one of the players who makes more (service) breaks on the tour.
“A few weeks ago, I lost in Rome so I expected a very tough match. Happy the way that I played. I think I have been improving and today has been a very positive match for me.”
Nadal and Djokovic will meet for the ninth time in a major final.
They have won four each.
“The only thing I know is to play against Novak, I need to play my best. Without playing my best tennis, the situation is very difficult,” said Nadal.