Once again, it was a match that lived up to its promise: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal played tennis at the highest level. The Serb was not surprised by the Spaniard’s physical condition.

“I lost to the better player today,” Djokovic had to admit frankly at the press conference. “I had my chances, but I didn’t take them. Rafa was the better player in the important moments. At the end of the second set I had the momentum and thought I was back. Then he had some very good games at the beginning of the third set. I have to accept this defeat.”

For 4:12 hours, the two tennis legends had once again really given it to each other. The second set lasted almost one and a half hours. After a clear first round in Nadal’s favour, the Spaniard also led in the second set with a double break and 3:0. But then the Serb got going, had his best phase in the match and played almost faultlessly. Djokovic won the set 6:3 and one had the feeling that the match could now tip in his direction.

Fiddlesticks. Nadal left the court for a moment, then hit back and took set three. It was once again the classic that everyone had promised. Not only Mischa Zverev, whose brother will now meet the Spaniard, was amazed many times at the “Eurosport” microphone. It even looked as if tennis fans would get a fifth set from this spectacle, which actually came far too early in the quarter-finals.

Djokovic served for the set but missed set points and ultimately lost in a tie-break. “I had my chance in the fourth set, had some set points. He showed why he is a great champion, was also very strong mentally and then finished the match. He deserved it without a doubt,” Djokovic, who was the favourite to win the title at Roland Garros before the match against Nadal and in general, also had no choice but to artfully congratulate one of his all-time rivals.

“I can’t thank everyone here in Paris enough”.

For Nadal, it was another great, because perhaps not necessarily expected, success in his unique career. “It’s a very emotional night for me. I play for nights like this. But it’s only a quarter-final, I haven’t won anything yet. I give myself a chance to be back on the pitch in two days. Playing another semi-final at Roland Garros means a lot to me,” said the Manacor man, keeping the ball rather low.

He was once again euphorically celebrated by the fans. “The crowd has been incredible since the beginning of the tournament. Maybe they know that I won’t play here much more,” laughed the Spaniard, who of course couldn’t say much about his future yet due to his injury problems. “I can’t thank everyone here in Paris enough.”

Djokovic not surprised about Nadal’s condition

But speaking of injury problems. In the run-up to the tournament, Nadal once again struggled with his right foot, so exactly how fit he will arrive in Paris was hard to say. There was not much sign of problems or anything like that for the Spaniard on Tuesday, he showed his best match of the tournament so far against the Serb. “I don’t see any problems. I’m not surprised about his physique either,” Djokovic said. “It’s not the first time he comes out a few days after his injury and is 100 per cent fit. He’s done it many times in his career, so I’m not surprised.”

While Djokovic must now watch the rest of the tournament from the couch, Nadal has a chance to wrap up his 22nd Grand Slam title and 14th success in Paris. He still has two steps to take to do so, with a match against a very strong Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals in the semi-finals on Friday.