“I want to enjoy this moment,” Ferrer said.
That’s understandable, given not only that this is his 42nd appearance in a Grand Slam tournament but also that his record against is Nadal is 4-19.
Then again, 17 of those head-to-head matches came on clay, and no one has been able to withstand Nadal’s relentless, will-sapping style on that surface. Nadal is 58-1 in his French Open career; the loss came to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.
Nadal later said bad knees were partly to blame for that defeat. On Friday, he was wearing a thick strip of white tape below his left knee, which sidelined him for about seven months until February. Since returning, Nadal is 42-2 with six titles, reaching the finals of all nine tournament’s he’s entered.
“For us, it’s really a miracle,” said Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach.
At his best against the best of his era, Nadal is now 20-14 overall against Djokovic and 20-10 against 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer. He is 5-0 against each at Roland Garros.
“An unbelievable match to be part of, but all I can feel now is disappointment. That’s it,” said Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in last year’s final and still needs a French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam. “He showed the courage in the right moments and went for his shots. ... I congratulate him, because that’s why he’s a champion.”
Djokovic’s coach, Marian Vajda, was asked Friday whether there is any bigger challenge in tennis than facing Nadal on his preferred surface.
“I don’t think so,” Vajda said. “He’s the King of Clay.”
Nadal is much more than, too, having won two titles at Wimbledon, and one apiece at the Australian Open and U.S. Open, where he finished off his career Grand Slam by defeating Djokovic in the 2010 final. Nadal and Djokovic have played 35 times, tied for the most meetings between two men in the Open era, and this one was exceeded in length, certainly, and quality, probably, by their 2012 Australian Open final won by the Serb in nearly six hours.