Nadal through as Djokovic retires
Rafael Nadal eased into the semi finals of the French Open on Wednesday after Novak Djokovic succumbed to a lower back injury, forcing his retirement from the match at the beginning of the third set.
The number two seed was leading by two sets to love 6-4 6-4 when his young Serbian opponent threw in the towel following the injury, which required treatment from his trainer after three games of the second set.
Nadal may have been gifted the eventual victory, but the defending champion was imperious in his play, and never looked like falling at the second last hurdle as he keeps his eyes well focused on a possible final match-up with Roger Federer.
"It's going to be a tough match in the semi finals. Any player at that stage is going to be tough." added Nadal.
But it was a disappointing end to a successful tournament for Djokovic, who has impressed the Roland Garros crowds with a series of mature displays that have belied his tender 19 years of age.
Djokovic started poorly, losing both his first service games, allowing Nadal to take the early advantage, despite breaking the Spaniard in his own opening service game.
"I was playing pretty well. I think I was in control," analysed Djokovic "Even with a sore back I think I played equal."
But the Serbian rallied and held serve for the first time with a thundering forehand to pull within one at 2-3. That game seemed to give Djokovic some confidence, as he started to play with the unabandonned air of a player with nothing to lose.
NADAL NOT INVINCIBLE
Djokovic, who this week has expressed an interest in the possibility of changing nationalities by taking a British passport ,began to take on shots, looking for the corners, even on important points.
And it paid off for a while, as he continued to hold serve, until Nadal ultimately took the first set 6-4.
"I realised that I don't need to play any special way (to beat Nadal). I think I could have won today. He's not unbeatable. It was a difficult position for him. He was not in control of the match." told Djokovic at his press conference.
A brief intermission for Djokovic's trainer to treat the Serbian's problematic back seemed to give him hope as he broke back on the fourth break point to move to within two games of Nadal.
But the damage had already been done, both physically and with the early loss of his service games and, despite one more break, Djokovic dropped the second set by the same score as the first, 6-4.
At two sets down and with a sore back, the challenge proved too much for Djokovic and he retired before completing the first game of the third set.
"I don't think it would have been good for me to continue playing with the pain in my back. This is not the only tournament in the year."
He added optimistically: "I think I had control of the match. I just didn't finish it in the right way when I needed to."