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TENNIS

Nadal outlasts Djokovic to reach eighth French Open final

Seven-time champion Rafael Nadal defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a pulsating five-set men's semifinal Friday at the French Open.

The third-seeded former No. 1 Nadal outlasted his great rival Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 9-7 in a grueling 4-hour, 37-minute affair to reach his eighth French Open final in nine years.

"I was ready for the fight," Nadal said. "I really fought a lot."

Nadal's opponent in Sunday's lucrative finale on the famed red clay at Stade Roland Garros will be fourth-seeded fellow Spaniard David Ferrer or sixth- seeded French crowd favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

In a match that featured two of tennis' greatest players, Djokovic and Nadal did not disappoint on a hot, breezy, sun-drenched Day 13 of the fortnight. The two stars only intensified their great rivalry, piling up the winners with bludgeoned forehands, fierce two-handed backhands and deft volleys.

The deciding 82-minute fifth set opened with a service break by the six-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic and the two greats then stayed on serve until the eight game, when Nadal finally broke back to even the stanza at 4-all. A frustrated Djokovic received a time violation and was called for a net violation in that key game.

The marathon fifth was ultimately decided in the 16th game, when Nadal stunned Djokovic by breaking the strapping Serb at love when Djokovic misfired long on one final forehand on Nadal's first match point at a jam-packed Court Chatrier.

"It has been an unbelievable match to be part of, but all I can feel now is disappointment," Djokovic said. "I wanted this title so much."

The classic win gave Nadal an amazing 58-1 record at the French Open, with his only loss coming against Swede Robin Soderling in the fourth round back in 2009.

"I congratulate Novak," Nadal told the crowd. "He's a very great champion. He will win here at Roland Garros another year."

The Australian Open champion Djokovic, donning a white cap on Friday, managed to stay alive in a 58-minute fourth set, one in which Nadal was two points away from reaching a fourth straight final in Paris.

Nadal broke for a 4-3 lead in the fourth, but the advantage was short-lived, as the Serb broke right back and then held for a 5-4 edge.

Nadal then held and got another break for a 6-5 lead and then tried to serve out the match. And he appeared on his way to do just that after crushing a pair of brilliant forehand winners for a 30-15 lead to put himself just two points away from the finale.

But the ever-resilient Djokovic would not be denied, as he charged back to take that 12th game via break, setting the stage for a tiebreak.

Djokovic dominated the tiebreak, which came to a close when the formidable Serb swatted a forehand into Nadal's feet that the Spaniard could only scoop into the net.

Earlier in the bout, Nadal tallied the lone break of the first set en route to victory before Djokovic officially got into the match by cruising in the second.

Djokovic was down a set and trailing 2-3 in the second before a pair of breaks helped him grab a 5-3 lead and a hold secured the stanza for the Serbian star. He won the last four games of the second to level the match.

The third set then was all Nadal, as the mighty Mallorcan rolled out to a 5-0 lead before settling for a 6-1 win.

Nadal wound up with eight breaks of serve on Friday, compared to five for the hard-luck loser Djokovic, who tallied 31 more unforced errors (75-44) than his Spanish counterpart.

"That's why he's a champion," Djokovic said. "That's why he's been ruling Roland Garros for many years, and for me it's another year."

The 11-time Grand Slam champion Nadal beat the Serbian slugger Djokovic in last year's French Open final to secure a third straight and men's-record seventh overall Roland Garros title. He is trying to become the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event.

The reigning Aussie Open champion Djokovic still needs a French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam.

The 27-year-old Nadal is now 20-15 lifetime against the 26-year-old Djokovic, who beat the Spaniard in an ATP Masters final in Monte Carlo in April. Nadal, however, is now 7-3 in their Grand Slam meetings, including a perfect 5-0 mark at Roland Garros. Their previous 11 meetings on tour had all come in finals.

Nadal will appear in his ninth final in nine tournaments in 2013, seeking a seventh title. He owns 56 career championships in 79 finals.

The left-handed Nadal missed this year's Aussie and last year's U.S. Open while recovering from a knee injury.

The 2013 French Open champion will claim $1.97 million.