One day, one epic match: Nadal - Djokovic (semi-final 2013)

 - Danielle Rossingh

Relive this great semi-final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at Roland-Garros 2013

Rafael Nadal & Novak Djokovic after their semi-final at Roland-Garros 2013©Christophe Saïdi / FFT invites you to experience the 2020 tournament on the original dates by looking back at some of the most memorable matches from the past, round by round. Today, Friday June 5, we go back to an epic semi-final clash in 2013 between defending champion Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The context

Nadal’s return to the top of the game had looked in doubt after a knee injury sidelined the Spaniard for seven months following a shock second-round loss to Czech Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon the previous year. But the 11-time Grand Slam winner had made a triumphant comeback, losing just two matches in the nine tournaments he played before Paris. Although the top-seeded Djokovic had beaten him in Monte Carlo in April, playing at Roland-Garros would be something else. “This court, and the feeling to play this court, is always a little bit different,Nadal said before the match. “And in any case, the past is the past.” 

Djokovic, meanwhile, had been telling everyone his overarching goal during the 2013 season was to win his first Roland-Garros title. A six-time Grand Slam champion, Djokovic had been beaten by Nadal in Paris three times. No wonder he called his semi-final with the seven-time champion “a big challenge.” The Spaniard, on the other hand, treated their clash as just another match. “It is not the finals, it’s the semi-final,” said Nadal. “If you win, you didn’t win nothing yet. That’s a big difference.

Nadal & Djokovic before their semi-final at Roland-Garros 2013©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

The match

After an unusually chilly Paris spring, the sun finally came out for men’s semi-final day. Even though it was hot, the wind made playing conditions tough. Just like their titanic clash at the Australian Open in 2012, which Djokovic won after almost six hours, the semi-final between the pair did not disappoint. In a contest full of spectacular baseline rallies and momentum shifts, Nadal twice failed to serve out the match in the fourth set, which was eventually won by Djokovic in a tiebreak.

But after pulling back from the brink of defeat, Djokovic was eventually undone by a few errors in the deciding set. Serving at 4-3, deuce, Djokovic put a smash away for a winner but lost the point after he ran into the net. He would end up getting broken on a forehand error.

After holding serve three times to stay in the match, Djokovic played an error-strewn service game at 7-8, losing it to love as he missed a smash, mistimed a passing shot and played two wild forehands. Nadal celebrated passionately after a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 9-7 win, only his second five-set match in Paris, moved him to his first Grand Slam singles final after months of injury misery.

What they said

The four hour, 37 minute encounter left Toni Nadal, Nadal’s uncle and long-time coach, in tears and at a loss for words, while Djokovic was deeply disappointed. “It's been an unbelievable match to be part of, but all I can feel now is disappointment. That's it. I congratulate him, because that's why he's a champion,said Djokovic. “That's why he's been ruling Roland Garros for many years, and for me it's another year.

"It's very, very special for me," Nadal said after the match. "I want to congratulate Novak, he's a great champion and he will win here at Roland-Garros one day, I'm sure.

Match stats

Nadal produced 61 winners, compared with 54 for Djokovic. The Serb made 75 errors, while Nadal had 44 mistakes.

Rafael Nadal with the trophy at Roland-Garros 2013©Sindy Thomas / FFT

What happened next ?

After a marathon semi-final, the title match against David Ferrer was somewhat of an anti-climax. Nadal extended his dominance over his compatriot to 20-4 with a straight-sets win to become the first man in history to win the same Grand Slam event eight times. Although Nadal was surprised in the first round of Wimbledon by Belgian Steve Darcis later the same month, he would make the finals of the next three Grand Slam events, winning the title at the US Open in 2013 and Roland-Garros again in 2014. Nadal now holds 19 major singles titles, including 12 at Roland-Garros, just one shy of men’s Grand Slam record holder Roger Federer of Switzerland.

Djokovic would have to wait two more years to finally get the better of Nadal on clay in Paris. But his straight-sets quarter-final win over the defending champion in 2015 still didn’t hand him the title as he was overpowered by Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka in the final. After three losses in finals, Djokovic would finally achieve a life-long ambition in 2016 when he beat Britain’s Andy Murray at Roland-Garros to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four majors at the same time. He called it “the biggest moment of my career.”  

Relive the match between Noah and Roger-Vasselin (semi-final 1983)

Testing your Roland-Garros knowledge in the RG Fantasy Game quiz of the day !