By Pritha Sarkar
It was sharp, quick and brutal as Novak Djokovic finally dropped the French Open guillotine on Rafa Nadal – ending the most remarkable of Roland Garros reigns in ruthless fashion on Wednesday.
The champion, who was rumoured to have red clay pumping through his veins after ruling the Paris slam for nine of the last ten years, tamely surrendered his crown.
A double fault ended the most miserable of miserable days for the Spaniard, with Djokovic proving that even players of Nadal’s stature can be turned into mere mortals.
The manner of Djokovic’s 7-5 6-3 6-1 execution was impressive enough but unfortunately for the Serb, no one was running out on court to hand him a gleaming trophy for condemning Nadal to only his second defeat at Roland Garros.
For this was merely a quarter-final.
To get his hands on the Musketeers’ Cup and complete the coveted career grand slam, the world number one will first have to tackle Andy Murray – a 7-6(4) 6-2 5-7 6-1 winner over David Ferrer – and then win the final on Sunday.
A match befitting the final of any grand slam stage came two rounds too early due to Nadal’s slide down the rankings.
While injuries and appendicitis kept Nadal off court during the second half of 2014, 2015 has not exactly been a stellar year by his own high standards – he arrived in Paris without winning a European claycourt event for the first time in over a decade.
Nadal’s woes meant he entered Roland Garros ranked seventh, which set him on the path to a horror 29th birthday date with Djokovic.
The traffic-stopping 44th showdown between the two was dubbed ‘The Superbowl on clay’ by John McEnroe but there was nothing ‘super’ about it during the opening exchanges because within a blink of an eye, Djokovic was 4-0 up.
As Djokovic unleashed an assortment of lethal backhands, forehands and volleys, McEnroe exclaimed: “Nadal unbelievably has no idea what he’s doing – that spells trouble.”
There was trouble with Nadal’s forehand, there was trouble with his usually reliable top spin and there was trouble with his serve.
“Novak had me under control most of the time. He was better than me. That’s it, simple,” said the sixth seed after suffering only his second loss in 72 matches in Roland Garros.
“I’m gonna fight. I lost in 2009 (to Robin Soderling) and that was not the end. I lost in 2015 and this is not the end,” added Nadal, who produced only three forehand winners during the two hour 27 minute mauling.
Even when Nadal came back to level the set at 4-4, his shots seemed to lack the firepower that in the past left countless opponents gasping for air.
Djokovic, who had lost six previous French Open tussles against Nadal, stayed cool and collected throughout the contest to notch up his 21st win against his Roland Garros nemesis.
“It’s definitely a big win, a match that I will remember for a long time,” said Djokovic.
“At the end of the day, he’s human. I understand that people are questioning his game. But if you need a reminder of who he is, you just look at his career stats and grand slams that he won.”
Djokovic’s next test will be against a player who also boasts a 15-0 record on red dirt this year.
Murray’s triumph over Ferrer ended a miserable day for the Spaniards, who will not feature in the last four here for the first time since 2009.
While Djokovic harbours hopes of becoming only the eighth man to win all four majors, Serena Williams showed that she is primed to win a 20th grand slam singles title.
After surviving three tough three setters, she subjected poor 2012 finalist Sara Errani to a 6-1 6-3 hammering to prove that it will take a brave woman to deny her a third title in a city she calls her second home.
Standing in her way to a final date on Saturday is surprise Swiss semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky, who toppled little-known Belgian Alison van Uytvanck 6-4 7-5.