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French Open: Nadal outlasts Djokovic in epic semifinal
Tennis » Seven-time champ comes from behind in fifth set to advance to final.

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There were bits of everything, including Djokovic’s running complaint — one he continued afterward — that the court was too dry and dusty on a sunny, 82-degree afternoon and should have been watered.

Nadal shook his head when he was docked a point by chair umpire Pascal Maria for taking too much time before serving, at set point in the third, no less. Djokovic was warned for violating the same rule in the fifth set, up a break and serving at 4-3, 40-all. Right after, he ended a 15-stroke exchange with a volley smash winner, but his momentum carried him into the net, which players are not allowed to touch, so the point was awarded to Nadal, who eventually broke back there.

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"Probably," Vajda said, "the most decisive point."

There were plenty to pick from.

Twice in the fourth set, Nadal was two points from victory but couldn’t close. Djokovic, whose returning and defensive skills are right there with Nadal’s, took 10 of the last 13 points of that set to force a fifth.

It began ominously for Nadal, who double-faulted on the second point and hung his head, then dropped a forehand into the net to get broken. That’s when he asked Maria to tell the sometimes-rowdy spectators to hush during play. Fans saluted some points with standing ovations; they filled the air during changeovers with competing chants of "Ra-fa!" and "No-vak!"

Just when it seemed the semifinal-that-felt-like-a-final could go on in perpetuity, each player able to summon something spectacular when necessary, Djokovic blinked. There were those two missed overheads, the second making it love-15 as he served while down 8-7. Nadal then delivered a cross-court backhand passing winner at a sharp angle for love-30. Two of the shortest points followed, the pattern the same: serve, return, Djokovic forehand long.

That was it. Nadal broke at love. In the end, he won by making fewer mistakes than Djokovic, whose official count of 75 unforced errors — 29 more than his opponent — was inflated because of Nadal’s unrivaled ability to cover the court and stretch points, forcing a player to hit shot after shot after shot.

Djokovic did what he could to stay away from Nadal’s uppercut of a topspin-lathered, left-handed forehand, but it’s tough to stick to strategy as the points — and racket swings — pile up. By the AP’s count, 54 of the match’s 335 points lasted at least 10 strokes (Nadal won 28 of those).

"I knew that both of us would give everything we’ve got, physically and mentally, in order to win," said Djokovic, who was determined to win his first French Open title to honor his childhood coach, Jelena Gencic, who died last weekend in Serbia. "I gave my best. I really did."

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Wasn’t quite enough. Almost never is against Nadal in Paris.

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