PARIS – Novak Djokovic seemed well on his way to yet another ho-hum victory, yet another French Open final, yet another matchup against rival Rafael Nadal. And then, suddenly, what had been a gallop became a grind.
Slightly more than two hours into his semifinal against Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday night, Djokovic was serving for the match, one point from ending things in straight sets. Just. One. Point. But a down-the-line backhand veered a tad wide, Djokovic rolled his eyes and, eventually, he was stuck in a serious situation, somehow pushed to five sets.
As is usually the case, though, he was up to the task when it mattered the most. Djokovic got back in gear down the stretch to hold off the much younger, much less accomplished Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 to reach his fifth title match at Roland Garros.
“I stayed calm on the surface," Djokovic said, "but deep down, it was a totally different matter."
Standing in the way of No. 1 Djokovic, a 33-year-old from Serbia, on Sunday at Court Philippe Chatier — he is pursuing a second trophy there and 18th from all Grand Slam tournaments — will be, as it’s been so often, No. 2 Nadal, a 34-year-old from Spain.
It will be their 56th meeting, the most between two men in the professional era (Djokovic leads 29-26), 16th at a major (Nadal leads 9-6) and eighth at the French Open (Nadal leads 6-1).
“It's his house,” Djokovic said.
In addition to closing in on an unfathomable 13th French Open championship with a 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (0) win over 12th-seeded Diego Schwartzman, Nadal now gets a chance to tie Roger Federer for the men’s record of 20 Slam titles.