The Spaniard ended the high-class quarter-final match with his fourth match point against the world number one and defending champion 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) at 1.15am in Paris and will meet German number one Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals on Friday.

The Olympic champion had earlier beaten Spanish tennis prodigy Carlos Alcaraz 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7) to reach the last four at the Stade Roland Garros as he did last year.

“It’s very emotional for me,” Nadal said after the 4:12-hour tussle: “Novak is one of the best players in history and you have to play at your best level against him from the first point to the last.” Djokovic insisted Nadal was a great champion: “I gave everything and lost to a better player today.”

Djokovic fights back in vain

It was Nadal’s 29th win in the 59th duel between the two superstars. The 13-time Paris champion initially set the tone in the highly anticipated match, shining time and again with spectacular passing shots. Djokovic then came up but fought back in vain. Nadal took revenge for last year’s semi-final defeat and reached the last four at Roland Garros for the 15th time.

The 35-year-old Majorcan thus has a further opportunity to extend his lead in the number of major victories. Since his triumph at the Australian Open, he has 21 Grand Slam titles, while Djokovic and Roger Federer of Switzerland have 20.