Novak Djokovic set up a blockbuster French Open title showdown with Rafael Nadal on Friday after a dramatic five-set semi-final victory over Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas. World number one Djokovic, the 2016 champion at Roland Garros, reached his fifth final in Paris, defeating fifth seed Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 in a roller-coaster of a contest where he had held a match point in the third set. Nadal, the 12-time champion, defeated Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7/0) to make a 13th final at the tournament. On Sunday, Djokovic can win an 18th major and become the first man in half a century to win all four Slams twice.
Nadal, the world number two, can equal Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slam title wins.
Djokovic is one of only two men to have defeated Nadal at Roland Garros in 15 years. Sunday will be their 56th clash.
“This is the house of Rafa,” said Djokovic. “I will have the motivation to win, I beat him here in 2015 but this will be the biggest challenge – playing Nadal on clay.”
Djokovic hailed Tsitsipas, who was appearing in the semi-final of a Slam for only the second time.
“Stefanos is a big player but after four hours he was tired. He gave me a lot of trouble. I looked calm on the surface but it was a different story inside,” added Djokovic who will be in his 27th Slam final.
Djokovic took a 5-1 career lead over Tsitsipas into the semi-final and showing no signs of the neck and shoulder injury which blighted his performance against Pablo Carreno Busta in the last eight, he secured the only break of the opener in the second game.
Crucially, he saved all five break points he faced.
That became seven from seven early in the second set and he made Tsitsipas pay, breaking for a 3-2 edge and backing it up with another for 5-2.
The 22-year-old Greek, appearing in his first French Open semi-final, just couldn’t make Djokovic crack.
An eighth break point came and went in the second game of the third set with Djokovic breaking for 5-4.
– Nadal into 13th final –
Having saved two more break points, Djokovic was unable to convert a match point in the 10th game, picked up a time violation and, unsettled by the call as well as disturbances in the crowd, was broken at the 11th time of asking.
From the brink of a quick exit, Tsitsipas stayed alive, taking the third set 7-5.
Djokovic squandered 10 break points in the fourth set as Tsitsipas, who had also been two sets down in his opening match against Jaume Munar, levelled the match.
However, in a final twist and as the clock ticked closer to the four-hour mark, Tsitsipas faded away in the decider, dropping serve twice to hand Djokovic a 4-1 lead.
He saved another match point but was powerless on the third as Djokovic fired a clean winner.
For 34-year-old Nadal, his win over Schwartzman was his 99th at Roland Garros.
He is into his 28th final at the majors and has not dropped a set in the tournament this year.
“It’s always incredible to play here and this is a very special moment,” said Nadal after a 10th win in 11 matches against Schwartzman who had shocked him in Rome last month.
“I played a couple of bad points in the third set but Diego is a very tough player. He probably makes more breaks on the tour than others.
“It was difficult until the end but it was a positive match for me.”
Nadal fought off two break points in a marathon 14-minute opening game. He then broke for 2-0 but Schwartzman retrieved it immediately.
It was a brief respite for the 5ft 6in (1.68m) player affectionately known as “El Peque” (“shorty”), as the 28-year-old was broken again in the fourth game.
The Argentine saved a couple of set points but dumped the third one in the net and the opener was Nadal’s after 65 minutes on court.
Nadal was comfortably the stronger, breaking in the third and ninth games for a two sets lead.
With the match and his spirit seemingly drifting away, Schwartzman dropped serve again to go 3-1 down in the third.
But he rallied as Nadal slipped into passivity and by the 11th game he was on back on serve although he remonstrated with himself for squandering three break points that would have left him serving for the set.
That was his last chance as Nadal stormed through the tiebreaker.
The Argentine was left to regret his 48 unforced errors and converting just three of his 12 break points.
“It’s different playing against Djokovic, Federer, Rafa, these guys. Is not easy playing them five sets because you have to play your best tennis maybe for three, four hours, five hours. Physically it’s very hard,” he admitted.
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