The men’s world No. 1 became the first player to beat the ‘King of Clay’ in the semifinals at Roland Garros and also the first man to win a match against Nadal at the French Open after dropping the first set.
After a barnstorming start when Nadal raced into a 5-0 lead in the first set, Djokovic regrouped and went on to deliver a tennis masterclass of power and subtlety of stroke play.
Djokovic came up with 50 winners, while Nadal committed 55 unforced errors as he visibly struggled physically in the match’s closing stages.
Nonetheless Djokovic thoroughly deserved his win on Philippe-Chatrier, a court Nadal has often looked invincible on.
“It was a privilege to face Rafa in such an incredible match,” said Djokovic. “Tonight it was my greatest ever match in Paris.”
Those fans lucky enough to have tickets for this match were even allowed to stay to its conclusion, despite the semifinal exceeding an 11 p.m. Covid-19 curfew, which previously forced spectators to leave Roland Garros even mid-match.
Fans in attendance cheered wildly as a French Open official announced that public authorities had agreed to let spectators stay for the entirety of the match.
“Probably it was not my best day today, even if I fought,” said Nadal.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I had a big chance. There were some crazy points but there was fatigue there.”
If Djokovic gets the better of Tsitsipas, the Serbian will claim his 19th grand slam title, which would put him just one behind the record of 20 shared by Nadal and Roger Federer.
Nadal, a 13-time champion at Roland Garros, saw his staggering career record at the French Open slip to 105 wins and just three losses. Two of those three losses have come at the hands of Djokovic, against whom Nadal still leads the lifetime head-to-head matchup at the French Open seven matches to two.
Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.