Djokovic ends Nadal’s streak
The Serb sweeps the Spaniard, who loses for only the second time in 72 matches at Roland Garros.
PARIS — There was no trophy, and no title, on offer for Novak Djokovic at Court Philippe Chatrier.
Perhaps there should have been, considering what he accomplished. Thoroughly outplaying the best there’s ever been on red clay, Djokovic ended Rafael Nadal’s 39-match French Open winning streak Wednesday by beating the nine-time champion in a surprisingly lopsided quarterfinal, 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.
“A match,” Djokovic said, “that I will remember for a long time.”
It was Nadal’s second defeat in 72 career matches at Roland Garros — and second in 95 best-of-fiveset matches anywhere on the surface.
The other came in the fourth round in Paris in 2009 against Robin Soderling.
Before that, Nadal won four championships in a row. And since? Nadal collected a record five consecutive French Open titles.
“I lost in 2009, and [it] was not the end,” Nadal said. “I lost in 2015, and [it] is not the end.”
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic lost all six previous matches they’d played in Paris, including the 2012 and 2014 finals.
But Djokovic’s defense allowed Nadal only three winners off his heavy topspin lefty forehand, one of the most feared shots in tennis. With his coach, Boris Becker, jumping out of his seat to applaud, Djokovic conjured up 45 winners to only 16 for Nadal, who turned 29 Wednesday.
“He was better than me,” Nadal said. “That’s it.”
Appropriate for a match that did not live up to the hype, the quarterfinal closed with a whimper on a double fault by Nadal.
In Friday’s semifinals, the 28year-old Serb will meet No. 3 Andy Murray, who eliminated 2013 runner-up David Ferrer, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 5-7, 6-1. Stan Wawrinka will play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other semifinal.
The 44th installment of Djokovic-Nadal was merely a quarterfinal because Nadal’s ranking has slipped so much he was seeded sixth. The 14-time major champion missed time last season with a right wrist injury, then had appendix surgery.
He has spoken openly about a crisis in confidence from poor-for-him results in 2015: Wednesday’s loss was his sixth on clay, his most in a year since 2003. When the rankings come out Monday, he’ll be no better than 10th, his worst spot since 2005.
Djokovic, who won his eighth Slam title at January’s Australian Open, owns a 27-match winning streak.
“You need to play very well to stand a chance against him, and the truth is that Rafael did not play at his best,” said Toni Nadal, who coaches his nephew.
After 15 minutes, Djokovic led 4-0, taking 18 of the first 22 points, including one 19-stroke delight in which both men sprinted to track down lobs.
Then, Nadal snapped to it, but he had to save three set points while trailing 5-4, then another two at 6-5, despite missing an easy overhead early in the game. Djokovic converted his sixth chance, breaking Nadal to seize the first set.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC, above, had 45 winners in the quarterfinal. Rafael Nadal had just 16.