Mendoza: Nadal’s gone after 3 sets

·2 min read

No, it is not the end of an era.

Rafael Nadal lost to Novak Djokovic on Friday because of a fourth-set meltdown caused by an old left ankle injury.

The way he played the first three sets, Nadal still has a lot of gas left in his tank, so to speak.

A true sportsman, Nadal didn’t blame that sore ankle that started to bother him after the killer third set. Why would he remove the tape in his ankle during the break if it didn’t bother him?

The keen-eyed would have noticed the slight, almost invisible, limp as Nadal tried to plod on against an enemy bent for the kill the moment he smelled blood.

But this is not to diminish Djokovic’s well-deserved 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 victory, decisively dethroning Nadal in a semifinal shorn of an epic finish by that fourth-set blot.

The French Open has always been Nadal’s kingdom. He won 13 of his 20 Grand Slams at Roland Garros, his veritable personal playground where he won 105 of his previous 108 matches.

And in his 109th appearance, Nadal, who turned 35 last June 3, fell short by two matches in pocketing a record-extending 14th crown. Djokovic, 34, was the usual suspect to derail it.

Not a total shocker, actually, as Djokovic was one of three previous Nadal beaters, doing it in the 2015 French Open. Robin Soderling inflicted Nadal’s first French Open defeat in 2009.

Nadal lost to Soderling due to a sore knee and a pained heart as a result of his parents’ separation.

He lost to Djokovic in 2015 as he was then into a two-and-a-half-year mental turmoil.

And in avenging his 2020 finals loss to Nadal, I insist Djokovic beat the Spaniard not at his best. Still, good luck as Djokovic guns for his sixth French Open on Sunday against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, who advanced after a thrilling five-set win over Germany’s Alexander Zverev.

Nadal’s exit became ominous after he lost a 6-5 lead when Djokovic forced a 6-6 deadlock in the third set lasting 92 minutes.

Nadal was simply a total wreck in the tiebreak, fumbling and bungling to allow Djokovic to run away with a 7-4 win.

The fourth set next became more of a Nadal funeral than anything.

After quickly racing to a 5-2 lead, Djokovic would watch Nadal dig his own grave.

Serving, Nadal made double-fault (his seventh against Djokovic’s three). Next, forehand net. Backhand wide. At 15-40, another wide Nadal forehand. Ciao!

“Today was not my day,” said Nadal.

“To win against Rafa on this court, you have to play your best... and tonight I played my best,” said Djokovic.

Tongue in cheek.

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