PARIS, June 10 (AP): Novak Djokovic wheeled toward his guest box in a nearly empty Court Philippe-Chatrier as midnight neared and let out one yell, two yells, three, four.
Once two points from a straight-set victory and seemingly well on his way to a French Open semifinal showdown against Rafael Nadal, Djokovic had to deal with so much that went awry: consecutive unforced errors that gave away a tiebreaker; a 21 1/2-minute delay while spectators left because of a Covid-19 curfew; a face-down tumble that drew blood from his left palm.
Still, the top-seeded Djokovic held on and moved on, pulling out the quarterfinal victory against No. 9 Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 on Wednesday night.
“This match had it all: falls, crowd, break. It was a lot of intensity. I just felt under tension the entire time,” Djokovic said. “The reaction (at) the end was just me liberating that tension that was building up for the entire match.”
Now comes a semifinal on Friday against a familiar foe in a rematch of last year’s Roland Garros final, but a round earlier: Nadal, who is 105-2 in the clay-court tournament.
“We know each other well,” the third-seeded Nadal said. “Everybody knows that in these kinds of matches, anything can happen.”
Nadal’s French Open set streak ended earlier Wednesday. His pursuit of a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title — and what would be a 14th in Paris alone — remained very much intact, however.
Nadal shrugged off dropping a set at his favourite event for the first time in two years by whipping violent forehands punctuated with fist pumps and yells of “Vamos!” en route to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over 10th-seeded Diego Schwartzman.
“For anybody, it’s very difficult to play against him. He’s feeling very comfortable on court,” Schwartzman said after falling to 1-11 against Nadal. “He’s Rafa, and he’s always finding the way.”
Nadal reached his 14th semifinal in Paris; Djokovic his 11th. It’s Djokovic’s 40th trip to the final four at any major, Nadal’s 35th. Nadal and Roger Federer share the men’s mark of 20 Grand Slam titles; Djokovic is at 18.
The semifinal will be the superstar duo’s 58th matchup, more than any other two men in the sport’s professional era; Djokovic leads 29-28. But Nadal is ahead 10-6 in Slam meetings, 7-1 at the French Open.
“I’m confident. I believe I can win,” Djokovic said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”
The other men’s semifinal on Friday is No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 6 Alexander Zverev.
There are four first-time Grand Slam semifinalists left in the women’s bracket, something that last happened at a major during the 1978 Australian Open. On Thursday, Maria Sakkari plays Barbora Krejcikova, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova plays Tamara Zidansek.
Djokovic was so close to advancing when he led the third-set tiebreaker against 2019 US Open semifinalist Berrettini 5-4. But after accumulating merely 14 unforced errors over about 2 1/2 hours up to then, Djokovic committed two in a row — a nervy forehand into the net, then a backhand into the net — and lost that set, drawing roars from a crowd hoping for more tennis.
The number of people allowed in the 15,000-seat main stadium was limited to 1,000 for each of the first 10 days of the tournament because of pandemic-related restrictions, but that limit was raised to 5,000 on Wednesday. The start of play for Djokovic-Berrettini was bumped up an hour to 8 pm, and the 9 pm curfew that had been in place was moved to 11 pm.
They did the wave, added some atmosphere and kept chair umpire James Keothavong a bit busy — especially when it was time to empty the stadium.
When the curfew arrived, there were jeers and whistles and some slow movers, so Djokovic and Berrettini — who seemed particularly buoyed by the prodding he received from fans — gathered their belongings and left the court until the match could resume.