Rafael Nadal to face Novak Djokovic in French Open semifinal

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Two points from a straight-set victory, Novak Djokovic seemingly was well on his way to a French Open semifinal showdown against Rafael Nadal when so much went awry Wednesday night.

Consecutive unforced errors by the top-seeded Djokovic helped give away a tiebreaker to barrel-chested Matteo Berrettini. Then there was a 21 1/2-minute delay in the fourth set while the first spectators allowed to attend a night session at Court Philippe Chatrier were cleared out because of a COVID-19 curfew. And a face-first stumble by Djokovic drew blood from his left palm when he braced himself against the court.

Still, Djokovic held on and moved on, pulling out the quarterfinal victory against No. 9 Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in a match that ended shortly before midnight with Djokovic yelling toward his entourage.

Now comes a semifinal Friday against a familiar foe in a rematch of last year’s Roland Garros final, but a round earlier: Nadal, who is 105-2 at Roland Garros.

“We know each other well,” the third-seeded Nadal said. “Everybody knows that in these kind 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 the clay-court major tournament for the first time in two years by whipping violent forehands punctuated with first 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.

The other men’s semifinal Friday will be No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 6 Alexander Zverev.

Nadal, meanwhile, entered his quarterfinal with a 35-set run at Roland Garros that began during the 2019 final. That grew to 36, before Schwartzman outplayed him for a stretch.

“I don’t pretend to come here and not (lose) sets. Is not my mindset to come here and just thinking (losing) a set is going to be a disaster for me. I mean, that’s part of the game,” Nadal said. “The thing that matters is how you recover from a set lost.”

At a set apiece and Schwartzman up 4-3 in the third, this is how Nadal sized things up: “That was the moment to make it happen.”

As if wanting something were enough to will it into existence, he won the next nine games, leaving Schwartzman muttering to himself and bouncing his racket off the clay.

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