PARIS (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic handed nine-times champion Rafa Nadal his second defeat in 11 years at Roland Garros to reach the semi-finals of the French Open with a devastating and thoroughly one-sided 7-5 6-3 6-1 win on Wednesday.
The world number one from Serbia, looking to win the only grand slam missing from his collection, will take on either British third seed Andy Murray or Spain’s David Ferrer, the seventh seed, for a place in Sunday’s final.
Nadal’s only previous defeat came in 2009 when the Mallorcan was knocked out in the fourth round by Swede Robin Soderling.
“He is still a champion,” Djokovic, who celebrated calmly, told a courtside interviewer in French.
“The tactic was to be aggressive and focused on every point, but it is not easy to do when you play against Rafa here.”
Nadal, who was only seeded sixth after a slow start to the season, said: “I‘m going to come back next year and I am going to try to be competitive, to try to be better prepared than this year.”
While the scoreline was crushing, the result was not the seismic shock that it was six years ago when the unthinkable happened and Nadal lost to Soderling.
Nadal had started Wednesday’s match with a 70-1 win-loss record on the Paris clay and had also won his last four grand-slam matches against Djokovic, as well as their six encounters at the French Open.
Djokovic, however, had won five of their six previous meetings as Nadal’s form faltered in the build-up to Roland Garros and the Serb stepped onto court Philippe Chatrier as the favorite.
He also started the match on the back of a 14-0 winning run on clay.
Nadal, playing on his 29th birthday, was tight at the start and Djokovic, who was almost always in control, opened a 4-0 lead by winning 16 of the first 20 points.
The prospect of Nadal suffering his first bagel at Roland Garros loomed, but Djokovic eased off and sensing an opening, Nadal mustered a break back.
He was in the groove and leveled for 4-4 by holding to love, while the crowd started to chant his name.
Paying the price for his exertions to draw level, Nadal’s groundstrokes lacked depth and he faced set points on his serve.
He managed to hold but there were more set points to come on Nadal’s serve and the Serbian finally converted on his sixth set point with a dipping crosscourt forehand.
Djokovic built on that lead and broke for 5-3 in the second set. Nadal saved three set points but could do nothing to retrieve a brilliant dipping crosscourt forehand on the fourth.
The third set was an ordeal for Nadal, whose reign ended with a double fault on match point.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis