Novak Djokovic has relived the drama that befell him at the Australian Open, successfully negotiating a pandemic-related match suspension before finally booking a date against Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-finals.
With Djokovic leading two sets to one and 3-2 against Italian Matteo Berrettini, up to 5,000 fans were enraged to have to leave Roland Garros just before 11pm on Wednesday night as a city-wide curfew began in Paris.
There was a 20-minute delay as both players left the arena and officials eventually emptied the arena of disgruntled fans, some of whom were left jeering and shouting “Rip off!”
When they returned, Djokovic, now playing in an empty arena against a ferocious hitter whose comeback from two sets down had been fuelled by the crowd’s noisy support, went on to win 6-3 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 to advance to his 40th grand slam semi.
The bizarre occasion was reminiscent of Djokovic’s third round win over Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open in February when the stadium was vacated and the match suspended mid-match as Victoria went into lockdown.
Djokovic, who was struggling with injury on that occasion, won that match before going on to take the title.
After the resumption in Paris, Djokovic took a heavy tumble when trying to retrieve a Berrettini forehand but he was almost maniacally determined to win, letting out
astonishing primal screams once he’d sealed victory on his third match point after almost three and a half hours.
It had been a day when both Nadal and Djokovic had shown rare frailty.
The Spaniard – astonishingly – actually lost a set at Roland Garros and Djokovic blew the chance of a straight-sets win.
Yet by the time the red dust had settled, the two experienced masters had produced enough glorious brush strokes to set up their 58th meeting.
Nadal was quite majestic once he’d recovered from the shock of having a set nicked off him at Roland Garros for the first time since 2019 in his Court Philippe Chatrier kingdom, blitzing Diego Schwartzman 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-0 triumph in two hours 45 minutes.
Djokovic was just as brilliant but the world No.1, on the verge of a routine win at 5-4 up in the third set tiebreaker, suddenly coughed up two feeble netted errors to allow Berrettini, who’d been growing in confidence, to grab the set.
After the delay, though, Djokovic set up a repeat of last year’s final, which was won in straight sets by Nadal for his 13th title.
Earlier, Schwartzman, the diminutive Argentine with a considerable talent and an even bigger heart, could hardly have played better or given any more of himself – but was still eventually blown away.
Such are the nature of mini-victories over Nadal that Schwartzman’s magnificent performance in ending the Spaniard’s run of 36 consecutive winning sets at the Paris major felt almost worthy of a trophy in its own right.
But as he always seems to on the clay, Nadal at 4-3 down in the pivotal third set, found another gear, winning the final nine games for the loss of just seven points.