Novak Djokovic fought valiantly to end Rafael Nadal's monopoly at Roland Garros, but he ultimately lost in a grueling, five-set classic. Although Djokovic will be a spectator during the French Open final, there's no reason for him to feel any shame in falling to a fellow legend.
Djokovic nearly pulled off the unthinkable, as he almost bested Nadal on the clay courts where he has made his living. Rallying from a fourth-set deficit, the Serbian superstar captured the tiebreaker to send the match to one last set.
But in a thrilling semifinal bout that many treated as the unofficial championship, Nadal came out on top yet again, seizing the fifth set 9-7 and clinching a spot in his eighth French Open final bout in nine years. The SportsCenter Twitter handle encapsulated the excitement of the match that spanned more than four hours before reaching its exhilarating conclusion.
WHAT A MATCH! Rafa Nadal wins a classic over Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 9-7. Nadal is going for his 4th straight French Open title.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 7, 2013
No loss is easy to swallow, especially for the top-ranked player in the world, but everyone loses to Nadal at Roland Garros. It's turning into one of the most inevitable results in sports that's close to passing taxes on the list of life's top certainties.
In fact, Tom Perrota stated that Djokovic joins five other players who fell to Nadal despite entering on top of the world.
A closing thought from Paris today: Rafael Nadal has played a No. 1 six times at Roland Garros. He has never lost. http://t.co/BAaM4Z9Q0q— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 7, 2013
While Djokovic finished with a higher first-serve percentage (67 percent) than Nadal (64 percent), the Spaniard committed 31 fewer errors and seven more winners. Two amazing competitors gave it their all, but Nadal came out on top this time around.
The French Open likely keeps Djokovic up at night, as it's the only Grand Slam that he has yet to win. He expressed his frustration of coming up short, per Piers Newberry of BBC Sport.
"It's been an unbelievable match to be part of, but all I can feel now is disappointment, "Djokovic said following the defeat. "That's it. I congratulate him, because that's why he's a champion."
The outcome is one Djokovic, who is 3-13 against Nadal on clay and winless in five matchups at Roland Garros, should be well accustomed to at this point. While it's little consolation now, Djokovic gets the better of Nadal elsewhere, notching 13 wins in 20 head-to-head contests on hard courts or grass.
So before questioning Djokovic's rightful claim as one of, if not still the best men's tennis player alive, remember that Nadal is simply extraordinary on clay. Even though Djokovic could not claim his seventh Grand Slam in Paris, he could be vying for his 10th trophy in his next go-around at the French Open.
In any of the other three major venues, Djokovic is still the top dog deserving of his No. 1 rank. He'll get his titles while Nadal also gets his. After all, what's the fun of a rivalry if it's not evenly matched?
Nadal is still the King of Clay, but that's no slight to Djokovic, who's still the man to beat everywhere else. So hold your head up high, Novak.