As part of Eurosports' Players' Cut Series, Toni Nadal, uncle and long-time coach of 12-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, spoke about his ward's epic semifinal win over Novak Djokovic in the 2013 edition of the tournament.
It was a match where both players had opportunities to win, and Toni Nadal believes Rafael Nadal could have wrapped it up in four sets. He also said that Novak Djokovic, who led by a break in the fifth, could have won just as easily:
"For me it was a wonderful match, because it had everything," Toni said. "This match in Roland Garros was unbelievable because both played very good, it was very close, Rafael could have won in the fourth but he lost that set. Then in the fifth, Djokovic could have won as well. At the end it was 9-7 for Rafael. It was an incredible match, but for me it was too much."
How did Rafael Nadal's 2013 Roland Garros semifinal against Novak Djokovic unfold?
It was truly a match of the highest quality, where the momentum ebbed and flowed both ways. 18 months after the pair clashed in an epic 2012 Australian Open final, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic conjured a pulsating humdinger for a place in the 2013 Roland Garros final.
Just four months after being back on a tennis court following a long absence to tend to his bothersome knees, Rafael Nadal was purring. The Spaniard had lost just twice in his previous 43 matches, both in tournament finals, as he entered his ninth Roland Garros semifinal.
Earlier in the season, the Serb had beaten Rafael Nadal in the Monte Carlo final to end the left-hander's eight-year reign in the Principality. However, on Philippe Chatrier, it was the seven-time Roland Garros champion who made the first move.
Riding an early break in the first set, Rafael Nadal pocketed it 6-4. And when the Spaniard broke for 3-2 in the second, a swift conclusion was in sight. But Novak Djokovic had other ideas.
The Serb immediately recouped the break by forcing Rafael Nadal to go wide with a forehand. Two games later, Novak Djokovic broke again and served out the set to restore parity.
It seemed clear that this was not going to be a straightforward outing for Rafael Nadal. But for some reason Djokovic's momentum fizzled out soon after, as Nadal conceded only one game in a lopsided third set.
In the fourth set, Rafael Nadal twice led by a break, but Djokovic broke back each time. The Spaniard's failure to serve out victory at 6-5 meant that a tiebreak ensued, which Djokovic took 7-3 to send the contest into a decider.
This time, the Serb was in no mood to let go of his momentum. Djokovic broke Rafael Nadal in the first game of the fifth set and rode the break advantage till 4-3. Rafael Nadal's Roland Garros bastion was quivering, on the brink of collapse.
Djokovic was two holds away from handing Nadal a first fifth-set loss at Roland Garros and only a second-ever defeat at the tournament.
At deuce in the eighth game of the set, however, Djokovic toppled over the net while trying to put away an easy winner. The point went Rafael Nadal's way.
That was the only opening the Spaniard needed. When Djokovic put a forehand into the net, the set was back on serve.
Thrice after that, Novak Djokovic served to stay in the set. But at 7-8 he produced one of his worst service games of the match, the pressure finally getting to him. One missed smash, a horrible misjudgment in leaving a ball that landed on the baseline, and two carelessly hit forehands meant that Rafael Nadal went through to his eighth Roland Garros final in nine years.
At four hours and 37 minutes, it was not as long as their 5-hour 53-minute battle on Rod Laver in 2012. But the latest epic from Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic drove the Spaniard's then coach to tears; Toni couldn't complete the on-court interview.
Djokovic himself was left distraught after failing to capitalize on his opportunities.
"All I can feel now is disappointment,” Djokovic said. “I wanted this title so much.”
The aftermath of Rafael Nadal's 2013 Roland Garros semifinal epic
In the fourth all-Spanish Roland Garros final of the Open Era, Rafael Nadal beat compatriot David Ferrer in straight sets to lift a record-extending eighth French Open title. He rode the momentum from that to win three more big titles in the year - the North American Masters followed by the US Open - to ultimately wrest back the No. 1 ranking from the Serb.
Novak Djokovic did finally get a win over Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, beating the then nine-time champion in straight sets in the 2015 quarterfinals. But Nadal would go on to win three more titles after that, to brush off the disappointment.
By beating Dominic Thiem in the 2019 title match, Rafael Nadal became the first player in history, male or female, to capture 12 titles at a Grand Slam tournament. He went past Margaret Court's mark of 11 titles at the Australian Open with his latest triumph.