Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic rekindled their long-storied history in men's tennis today, with the former/latter emerging the victor in three sets of 7-5, 6-3 and 6-1.
This is the rivalry that keeps on giving, the two men playing for an incredible 44th time in their respective careers. This is the Serb's long-awaited first win against Nadal in seven tries at the French Open and, though it was from a classic match, it did have a classic first set.
Because it is a monumental happening any time these two play tennis, I ran a diary of the match, edited for brevity's sake.
I was ready to go, and so were Boris Becker and Marian Vajda and the rest of the Djokovic clan.
1-0 Djokovic wins on serve. The Serb starts strong and wastes little time, or shots, by attacking Nadal on his forehand. I'm loving it.
0-2 Nadal is broken on serve. We get our first instance of the weird but typical-of-Roland-Garros camera shots. This one is a very wide and from-above shot of the court, followed by a close-up of the number "9" at the back of Nadal's shoes: nine as in the number of times he has won this French Open. (Or maybe it's for his 29th birthday, which he is celebrating today? Two shoes with a "9" = 2, 9 = 29?)
3-0 Djokovic holds on serve. The Serb gets cheeky with it, but it's with a little drop shot that Nadal has no problem reaching. Maybe Djokovic is just better unloading on the ball. Because it works, and it seems like the insane topspin he is uncorking is giving the Spanish problems. Then again, he does another drop shot on game point and it works. What do I know?
4-0 Nadal is broken on serve. Yet another weird but awesome camera shot from the Roland Garros camera crew. This time, viewers see Nadal's face up close from across the net and at twice the normal speed, only for the camera to slow down as he hits his shot. Gorgeous stuff.
Also, both players combine for a wild and crazy point that ends after an 18-shot rally and a double break for the Serb.
4-1 Djokovic is broken on serve. The first two "Come on!"'s in this match from Nadal who, right now, needs all the encouragement he can find. An insane passing shot of his, down the line brings, another celebratory eruption and a break point, which Nadal converts.
4-3 Djokovic is broken on serve. We see yet another weird camera shot, a view of Djokovic getting set to serve from up above and a close-up of Nadal's face awaiting said serve.
Most importantly, Nadal is back in this match, because he is always back; death, taxes, Nadal. But that undersells him, as he's running down and returning shots that have no business of ever making it back. That's Nadal.
4-4 Nadal wins on serve. The Serb had him and then, he didn't. It's a new match.
5-4 Djokovic wins on serve. The Djoker stops the bleeding, going back to the inside-out forehand to Nadal's own forehand that was so lethal earlier. We won't get shades of the 2012 French Open final between the two, when Djokovic won eight games in a row at one point over the third and fourth sets until the rain saved the Spaniard and allowed him to wrap up a four-set win.
5-5 Nadal wins on serve and saves three set points. Nadal saves three set points with timely drop shots, but the umpire calls a time violation against Nadal. The players have 20 seconds to send in a serve at the Grand Slam tournaments, but routinely take much longer than that; it's as if they keep daring umpires to call violations on them, and this umpire gladly obliges.
An underrated camera shot this time, but one that isn't really typical or even a staple of the French Open crew: we see an entire point from the point of view of a camera located directly behind a player, in this case Nadal, and at the court level. Nothing shows the power and heaviness of Nadal's and Djokovic's shots quite like this.
7-5 Djokovic breaks the Nadal serve and wins the first set. Are we having fun yet? Though he saves five set points, in the end Nadal is overcome by a slow start and a putrid second serve, which gave him only four more points than you and I in the first set.
On serve at 2-1. The French crew seem to fancy one shot above all, a close-up from the ground camera on Djokovic's side and looking at Nadal's shoes across the net. But we haven't seen this view of Djokovic's shoes. Why not, French Open organizers? Give us Djokovic's shoes!
The Philippe-Chatrier crew also watered the court after the first set and it seems to bother both players who have slipped already a few times, only three games into this second set.
2-2 Nadal wins on serve. The players will play with new balls now and each changes his racket. Something to keep an eye on as the match continues? The Spaniard's troubles on his second serve. But so far, so good in this set.
Make it three to close his service game.
4-3 Djokovic wins on serve. There you go, finally our first shot of Djokovic's shoes from across the match in this match. Otherwise, nothing to see here, just two players being dominant on serve. How nice of them, they're conscious that we have other things to do with our day and intend on wrapping up this match quickly... Hahahah who am I kidding??
5-4 Nadal is broken on serve. The camera crew flexes with might and force, giving us two iconic shots. First, there's a wide view of Nadal preparing to serve, with a close-up of his right hand dribbling the ball faded into the image. The second is the same concept and execution, but with a medium close-up of Djokovic awaiting a serve and a close-up of Nadal's face faded. The French cameramen: they're pros too.
Meanwhile, Nadal wins a point and we see his first fist pump of the match, then he saves a break point. That bodes well for the Spaniard.
...Except that Djokovic goes right on ahead and breaks Nadal's serve behind extremely heavy shots to his forehand.
6-3 Djokovic wins the second set behind an insane shot. That half-volley shot is the stuff that dreams are made of, as they say.
The Spaniard has to do something he's never had to do in the French Open to continue his reign: come back from two sets down. Meanwhile, Djokovic has managed to push his level up to a level that Nadal can't appear to match: the Spaniard was absolutely cruising on serve until the Djoker managed a 30-30 in each of his last two service games of the set. He converted on the second time.
1-0 Nadal is broken on serve. Nadal saves two break points to show that he is not going away, but Djokovic takes a page out of the 29-year-old's book and makes Nadal hit another ball, and then another again, and gets a service break to start this third set.
I'm watching this on TSN and, well sure the players are taking their time changing ends, but the station throws to a commercial at 1-0? Really?
3-0 Nadal is broken on serve. Is that the end of Nadal? The man is "struggling to win a point," say the commentators, and I would have to agree. Just then, he fights back, saves two break points and, if not for a lucky net bounce that gives Djokovic a double break, might have saved this. Can the Serb win a fifth match in straight sets against Nadal, in their past seven against one another?
4-1 Nadal wins on serve. Nadal finally gets on board in this third set, but Djokovic is just toying with him now, mixing top spin and flat groundstrokes with cheeky drop shots seemingly just for fun. "Why climb Mount Everest? -Because it's there." That's Djokovic in this third set.
5-1 Djokovic wins on serve. Nadal starts this important game by totally shanking a backhand return. Meanwhile, Djokovic is lethal on his serve and can't miss.
Also of note, I have totally stopped paying attention to the wonderful and creative French Open crew camera shots. I apologize for having failed you miserably.
6-1 Nadal is broken on serve on a double fault and loses the match. Novak keeps on takin' it.
Djokovic wins this quarterfinal 7-5, 6-3 and 6-1. Not an entirely surprising result if we are only looking at the Serb's and the Spaniard's 2015 results, but of course we can't do that. Nadal has won this tournament nine times since 2005, and 70 of 71 total matches in Paris, but for now "the King of Clay has been dethroned at Roland Garros." It won't have been because of his woes on the second serve, as he'll finish a respectable 14 of 37 in these situations; not great, but better than what the disastrous first set would have hinted at. Nadal simply couldn't crack the Djokovic code, finishing the match with only 16 winners to Djokovic's 45.
In the end, the seventh try against Nadal at the French Open will have been the lucky one for the Serb. After the win, Djokovic discussed the match in French with a French reporter on the court, thereby guaranteeing that he will forever remain my favourite. He left, because he said he had used every last word of French he knew. He cackled. (Shut up.)
What's next for Nadal if he can't even hang his hat on the French Open anymore nor, if Jo-Wilfried makes the French Open final, a place in the ATP World Tour Top 10? He'll be back because he always is, but the time for think pieces is for later.
Can anyone touch Djokovic after this win? Now more than ever, he has a great and real chance to complete the career Grand Slam and, perhaps if we dare look a little ahead, the yearly slam.