Matches of the Year: No. 2 – Nadal vs. Djokovic, French Open

The Grandstand presents its 2013 Matches of the Year, continuing with No. 2. The Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic rivalry added another chapter at the end of the clay-court swing with one of the most memorable matches in French Open history. Ricky Dimon and Hasan Murad recap the five-set marathon.

Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7 – French Open semifinals

“This is the biggest matchup of our Roland Garros 2013 campaign for both me and him,” Djokovic said before his semifinal showdown against Nadal. “I guess it’s the small details and few points can decide a winner.”

You can say that again.

The moment Djokovic’s final forehand sailed long and Nadal exulted with downright jubilation and solace, it was manifest why this semifinal of the 2013 French Open was tagged as a “virtual final.” After four hours and 37 minutes of onerous and topsy-turvy play, the King of Clay outlasted his fiercest rival 9-7 in the fifth to earn a berth in the title match.

In the wake of his recent win over Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Masters, a confident Djokovic’s determination knew no bounds as he was only two wins away from completing a career slam. Nadal, meanwhile, was also taking a sizeable stroke at history in his pursuit of a record-shattering eighth Roland Garros title.

With expectations soaring, both men started in fine form but it was Nadal who drew first blood. The Spaniard broke at 3-3 and went on to snag the opening set without facing break point.

When Nadal broke serve in the second set at 2-2 thanks to sustained brilliance, there was a feeling it was just a matter of time before he would be reveling his 58th career match win on the Paris dirt. However, quite accustomed to defying odds, Djokovic regrouped and went on a tear to reel off four straight games and draw level at one set apiece.

The third set was an aberration. Djokovic’s wavering focus and Nadal’s fearsome intensity swiftly led to an unassailable 5-0 lead for the defending champion, which quickly translated to a 6-1 rout.

A back-and-forth penultimate set laid the framework for one of the greatest matches in the tournament’s entire existence. Throughout the fourth, Djokovic’s dogged perseverance allowed him to stand firm in the face of adversity even when he was twice two points away from defeat with Nadal serving for the match at 6-5, 30-15 and 30-30. Djokovic started hitting the ball with brutal efficiency and with his opponent suddenly tightening up, he dictated more rallies to steal the see-saw set in a tiebreaker.

Aggressive returning and ball-striking enabled Djokovic to initially take command of the deciding set by breaking in the opening game and staving off a break point at 1-0. His sternest test arrived when serving at 4-3. The most dramatic game of the match (and perhaps of the year), which even saw Djokovic losing steadiness to run into the net to concede a point, ended with Nadal leveling the score at 4-4. This further prompted a battle of tenacity and tactical acumen. Nadal refused to capitulate as he raised his game to another level to prevail in the 16th game when Djokovic finally relinquished his serve. It was an effort of epic proportions from each man, but—as always—there could only be one winner.

“It’s very, very special for me,” assured an elated Nadal, who was full of respect for his opponent. “I want to congratulate Novak. He’s a great champion and he will win here at Roland Garros one day, I’m sure.”

For now, though, this is a match at which the tennis world should continue to marvel. After all, it had everything. In addition to featuring awe-inspiring shots, the encounter—like a Hollywood thriller—was abundant of suspense caused by incessant momentum swings and drama every step of the way. Apt to say it proved to be the most significant tennis match of the year in terms of separating No. 1 from No. 2 by the slenderest of margins.


19 Comments on Matches of the Year: No. 2 – Nadal vs. Djokovic, French Open

  1. I just rewatched this match a few days ago. I’d forgotten a lot of the specifics. It truly was a great match. I know that the kind of tennis one likes to watch is just a preference, but I have difficulty understanding how people prefer quick point, serve and volley tennis to the matches of Novak and Rafa. Sure, it’s nice to watch incredible shot-making, but to me, it’s even more exciting to see one of those incredible shots after they’ve been playing cat and mouse with one another during a point and setting up the situation to make the big shot, not to mention their unbelievable defensive abilities. For me, most of their matches are nail-biting, nerve-wracking affairs.

  2. “Apt to say it proved to be the most significant tennis match of the year in terms of separating No. 1 from No. 2 by the slenderest of margins.”

    It wasn’t that slender a margin………it’s almost a 500 plus a 250 title.

    • @nadline, when writing this I inserted ‘slenderest of margins’ to emphasize how close the 5th set was ans how ir turned out to be the deciding juncture of 2013. Had djokovic won this fifth set, he would have gained more than a 500 title plus a 250 one. So,this is what i meant 🙂

  3. I loved seeing this match again when the tennis channel replayed the entire 2013 RG. That fifth set was absolutely thrilling as each man tried to out do the other with some brilliant shot making.

    For me I will always remember the look on Rafa’s face in that crucial game in the fifth set when he broke back to even it up. He was stomping around and pumping his fist and nodding his head over and over. In the close up shots, the look in his eyes was so intense that it was almost frightening. He was so focused and determined. He was not going to lose this match!

    A truly brilliant match!

  4. btw, I had this match at no.1 ,while Ricky had it at no.2 ! lol. For me, no other match can match the ‘significance’ of this match.

  5. I can’t believe the ATP guys have the USO final at no.4 in their list of best grand slam matches of the year !! senseless stuff.

  6. because I think there were many matches better than the USO final… they have placed it at no.4, above Isner-Haas at no.5…

  7. Fair enough if you are just looking at the match level itself not considering the story lines. These lists are of course subjective.

    I would not only include the level of the match itself (which was still extremely high at times), but also the occasion, rivalry, drama, etc.

    This was a slam final between 1 and 2, the biggest rivalry in today’s game pretty much dictating No. 1 for the year. The match also had multiple shifts in momentum. Even though Rafa dominated to start, I fully expected Nole to bounce back which he did breaking Rafa three times in a row if I’m not mistaken and then the final turning point with Rafa finding a way to survive that third set and going onto win his second major of the year, on hc no less after missing so much tennis including the USO in 2012.

    For me, I don’t disagree with their view.

  8. Come to think of it, Nole was in the top four slam matches of the year according to the ATP.

    Hmmmm… maybe the ITF was onto something then.


  9. hawkeye, good points made …but do you remember that last year’s french open final did not feature in the top 5? that match was more dramatic,CERTAINLY more entertaining and had more at stake!

    I do not think it is necessary that every respectable semi or final featuring the top 2 players is bound to be a top 5 match . To be honest , I thought the USO final was disappointing in terms of quality for most part. Rafa’s backhand just was not there the entire match and djokovic played an ugly match overall .Yes the third set featured vintage rafa in terms of his fighting capabilities but other than that awe-inducing 54 stroke rally and some moment of brilliance from rafa’s forehand, the match was not so good. The fourth set was pretty disappointing from a neutral’s perspective I guess.

    There were many other highly entertaining matches played at slams in 2013. But I do agree that it was a very ‘significant’ match in deciding who’s the boss of the year!

  10. I do think that the quality of the USO final was not as good as the RG semifinal. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t still very good and deserving of being in the top ten. There is always drama when Rafa and Djoker meet at slams and usually some quality tennis. These two push each other to the very limits of their ability. Rafa has said as much himself. Everything was on the line here. Djoker wanting to again try to complete his career slam. Rafa on the comeback trail trying to win his favorite tournament and continue his dominance and make history by winning his 8th title. Going where no male tennis player has gone in the open era.

    For me, the RG semifinal was my #1 match of the year. This was Rafa being pushed as hard as he ever has been by Djoker. It was Rafa not being able to close it out in that fourth set. Then it was Rafa storming back after being down a break in that fifth set. Two games from defeat, Rafa pulled out all the stops to get the win. He produced some truly awe inspiring shots. Even seeing it now again, I still gasped at what he was able to do in that fifth set.

    I do think that matches between lesser ranked players do tend to be overlooked by the ATP in favor of the top players. But that doesn’t mean that those matches were any less worthy of mention.

    • Good post NNY…i would put Rafa-Nole USO final in the top 10 grand slam matches of the year, but its really hard to put it in top 5 in my opinion… If as a rafa fan I am to rank matches in terms of importance, I will rank USO final very high in the list !

      ‘I do think that matches between lesser ranked players do tend to be overlooked by the ATP in favor of the top players. But that doesn’t mean that those matches were any less worthy of mention.’

      Spot on !

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