French Open: Djokovic ends nine-time champion Nadal's reign at Roland Garros
Novak Djokovic crushed nine-time champion Rafael Nadal to move into the French Open semi-finals, condemning the Spaniard to just his second defeat in 72 matches at Roland Garros on his 29th birthday
Paris: Novak Djokovic crushed nine-time champion Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 to move into the French Open semi-finals on Wednesday, condemning the great Spaniard to just his second defeat in 72 matches at Roland Garros.
It was world number one and top seed Djokovic's first win over defending champion Nadal in seven meetings in Paris, avenging his defeats in the 2012 and 2014 finals. It also eased Djokovic, who fired 45 winners to Nadal's 16, closer to a first French Open title and completing a career grand slam.
Rafael Nadal reacts after losing a point against Novak Djokovic during their 2015 French Open quarter-final match at Roland Garros in Paris on Wednesday. Pic/AFP
He will play his 26th career Grand Slam semi-final on Friday against either British third seed and two-time grand slam winner Andy Murray or Spain's 2013 runner-up David Ferrer.
"I have great respect for Rafa, he's a true champion and it's always a pleasure to play him," said 28-year-old Djokovic.
"I knew I had to be aggressive and stay concentrated on every point. That's not easy to do against a man who had only lost once here in his career.
"It's an incredible day, I am very happy and I want to continue like this."
For Nadal, it was a sobering way to mark his 29th birthday with the comprehensive loss placing a serious question mark over whether he will be able to achieve his dream of a 10th French Open crown.
The defeat, just his second in Paris in a decade after a fourth-round exit to Robin Soderling in 2009, could also see him slip out of the world top 10 for the first time since 2005.
"I had my moments, but he controlled most of the match. This can happen when your opponent plays better and is in better shape," said Nadal.
"It's not a big surprise that I didn't win. I lost also in 2009 and today in 2015, but I hope to be back next year with another chance."
In a marathon 67-minute first set in their 44th career meeting, Djokovic raced into a 4-0 lead, allowing Nadal just four points. But the sixth seed roared back to 4-4, finally finding his range with his trusty forehand.
Nadal faced down three set points in the 10th game, also shrugging off a time warning from umpire Cedric Mourier for exceeding the 20-second limit between points.
After a 12-minute game, Nadal held for 5-5 and saved two more set points in the 12th game before Djokovic sealed it with a low, searing cross-courter which Nadal could only scramble towards in a desperate attempt to reach it, succeeding in only pushing the ball wide.
Despite being a set to the good, the top seed was as unhappy with Mourier as Nadal, complaining over the watering of the court at the break. Djokovic calmed down enough to have Nadal under siege again in the second set, breaking for 5-3.
Nadal saved three set points in the ninth game, but he was powerless on the fourth. Djokovic set it up with a breathtaking, no-look backhand volley and converted it into a two-set lead when Nadal netted another tired drive.
In a crucial illustration of his dominance, Djokovic conjured up 13 winners in the set to just four for Nadal.
For the Spaniard, it was the first time in his career he had lost the first two sets of a French Open match. His last comeback from two sets down at a Grand Slam was at Wimbledon eight years ago against Russia's Mikhail Youzhny.
But he looked and played like a beaten man in the third set as Djokovic raced out to a decisive 4-0 lead and the Serb claimed victory on Nadal's second double fault of the tie.