Rafael Nadal won a classic late-night battle with old foe Novak Djokovic to reach the semi-finals of the French Open.
The Spaniard, looking for a 14th Roland Garros title, battled to a 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-6 (7-4) victory over the defending champion and world No 1, in a match lasting four hours and 12 minutes, which finished at 1:15am local time.
“A very tough match,” said Nadal. “Novak is one of the best players in history and playing against him is always an amazing challenge. Today was another one.
“The only way to win against him is to play your best from the first point to the last. A magic night for me.”
The 13-time Roland Garros champion, beaten by the world No 1 in the semi-finals last year, arrived in Paris on the back of injuries and a chronic foot problem that hampered his preparations.
Having already survived a five-set thriller against Felix Auger Aliassime in the previous round, the Spaniard, who has only lost three times at the French Open since 2005, knows every inch of the immense court Philippe Chatrier and Djokovic paid for the reminder.
Nadal threw some early punches after coming hurtling out of the blocks.
He had defending champion Djokovic on the ropes after winning the first 11 games, leading by a set and 3-0 with a double break.
Nadal advances to his record-extending 15th Roland Garros semi-final.
Nadal improves to 110-3 at the French Open with his second straight four-hour+ victory and 20th win on clay over Djokovic.
However, Nadal’s intensity dropped and Djokovic hauled himself level before restoring parity after claiming an 88-minute second set.
But while the momentum appeared to be all his, the 35-year-old Nadal, backed by a partisan crowd, had recalibrated and raced away with the third.
Nadal saved two set points on the Djokovic serve and from 5-2 down, levelled the fourth set at 5-5.
A match that had started in May was now being played in June. Into a tie-break and Nadal roared into a 6-1 lead, Djokovic brought it back to 6-4, but a backhand winner brought the 59th meeting of these two greats to a climactic end.
Nadal will now meet German third seed Alexander Zverev for a place in Sunday’s final.
“He was a better player, I think, in the important moments,” said Djokovic. “He started very well. I didn’t start so great.
“I was gaining momentum, managed to win the second set and thought OK, you know, I’m back in the game.
“But then he had another two, three fantastic games at the beginning of the third. He was just able to take his tennis to another level in those.
“He showed why he’s a great champion. Staying there mentally tough and finishing the match the way he did.”