Djokovic battles past Berrettini, sets up Nadal semi-final showdown

Novak Djokovic battles past Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals of the French Open on Wednesday. Next up for Djokovic is none other than 13-time champion Rafael Nadal.

Novak Djokovic completed the 2021 French Open semi-final lineup when he held off Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 on Wednesday night.

Playing in the first and only night session of the tournament that allowed fans to attend, Djokovic treated the Court Philippe-Chatrier crowd to another impressive performance — at least for a while. Because of the 11:00 pm curfew in France, the fans had to leave midway through the fourth set. What once looked like a straight-set affair, Berrettini did not go away without a fight while testing the world No 1 over three hours and 28 minutes. Because of its length, the crowd missed a thrilling conclusion.

If nothing else, at least 5,000 strong witnessed an amazing third set. On the brink of defeat, Berrettini began bludgeoning forehands with reckless abandon and almost all of them found their mark. The ninth-ranked Italian held from start to finish to force a tiebreaker and won it seven points to five. Djokovic led by a mini-break at 5-4 before two terrible errors threw away his advantage.

Berrettini continued to go toe to toe with the top seed in the fourth, and again even following a delay at 3-4 for the fans to exit the stadium. The underdog came back out and delivered clutch holds for 4-4 and 5-5, but he finally cracked with the pressure on at 5-6. Berrettini had one game point to force another tiebreaker but failed to convert, after which he saved two match points. On Djokovic’s third opportunity, however, Berrettini netted a backhand.

“I thought the atmosphere was Davis Cup-like, to be honest,” the Serb said. “It was a lot of fans involved, every single point cheering, screaming. Just electric atmosphere out there. Yeah, I’m happy that I had that experience of playing in front of the crowd in the night session…. The crowd lifted him up. He was playing some really powerful tennis. Especially in the third and fourth he served tremendously strong and precise. It was just very difficult to read his serve and play someone like him.

“I didn’t mind actually leaving the court because I felt like I needed a little bit of a break and reset. Yeah, it’s unfortunate for the tournament, for the crowd, to have that curfew. But we knew it before the match. Referee came up to us and said, ‘If it comes close to 11:00, we’ll have to empty the stadium.’ That’s what happened.”

Now what’s happening is a showdown between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in Friday’s semi-finals. It will be a rematch of the 2020 title tilt. Last fall, Nadal dominated their final 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 for his 13th triumph at Roland-Garros.

The Spaniard advanced to his 14th French Open semi-final earlier on Wednesday when he defeated Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.

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