PARIS - Defending champion Rafael Nadal moved closer to an historic eighth French Open title yesterday when he defeated world number one Novak Djokovic 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 9-7 in a titanic semi-final.
Nadal, the third seed, took his Paris record to a staggering 58 wins from 59 matches after recovering from 4-2 down in the deciding set to clinch victory after 4 hours and 37 minutes.
The 27-year-old Spaniard, bidding to become the first man to win the same major for the eighth time, moved into his 17th Grand Slam final where he'll face either home hope Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Spanish compatriot David Ferrer.
Friday's win was Nadal's 20th in 35 career clashes — and 13th from 16 on clay — against Djokovic who still needs a French Open title to become only eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam.
In a dramatic and controversial final set, Djokovic broke for 1-0 before Nadal levelled in the eighth game after the Serb had been handed a time violation and then lost a point when he collided with the net as he put away a smash.
Djokovic even summoned the tournament referee onto the court to argue his case that he had been wronged by umpire Pascal Maria and continued to rage as he prepared to serve at 7-8.
Nadal pounced, moving to three match points and clinched victory when Djokovic, who ended with an ugly 75 unforced errors, hit wild and long.
"It's a very special win for me and congratulations to Novak — he's a great champion and he is going to win here at Garros one day," said Nadal, who had lost the pair's only other five-setter, the record-setting 2012 Australian Open final.
"When I was serving for the match it was against the wind so I knew that it would be a tough game. It was a similar match to the one in Australia in 2012 and he won. This time it is me that won and that is what makes sport so big."
On Sunday, Nadal will be appearing in his ninth final since returning from a seven-month injury lay-off.