PARIS — His dramatic and delightful French Open semifinal was 4½ hours old — and 14 games into the fifth set — when Rafael Nadal raced from the net to the baseline to retrieve Novak Djokovic’s seemingly unreachable lob.
Many players wouldn’t have bothered to give chase, let alone attempt what Nadal actually accomplished: With his back to the court, he somehow sent a lob the other way by flipping the ball between his legs.
Perhaps surprised the 11-stroke point was not already his, Djokovic flubbed an easy overhead smash into the net.
Two games later, Nadal flicked another, more traditional, defensive lob, and Djokovic sailed his response 5 feet long, the earlier mistake no doubt on his mind.
Three points later, the blink-and-you-miss-something match was over.
In a contest chock full of lengthy exchanges, moments of mastery and occasional lapses by both men, seven-time French Open champion Nadal returned to the final with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 victory over the No. 1-ranked Djokovic on Friday.
By the finish, it was not just a test of skill but also of stamina and perseverance, two qualities Nadal possesses in abundance.
“This one is a special one,” Nadal said. “If we talk about everything that makes a match big, today we had all of these ingredients.”
Except, of course, a glistening silver cup for the winner and a runner’s-up tray for the loser. Those will be on offer Sunday, when Nadal faces David Ferrer in an all-Spanish final with a chance to become the only man with eight titles at any Grand Slam tournament.
“When you have a win and you have the trophy, it means more,” said Nadal, who will be seeking his 12th major championship overall.
The fourth-seeded Ferrer reached his first Grand Slam final by defeating France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 7-6 (3), 6-2 Friday. The 31-year-old Ferrer, previously 0-5 in major semifinals, ended Tsonga’s bid to give the host country its first male champion since Yannick Noah in 1983.