PARIS (AP) – Novak Djokovic ended Rafael Nadal's 39-match French Open winning streak, beating the nine-time champion in a surprisingly lopsided quarterfinal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday.
It is only the second defeat for Nadal in 72 career matches at Roland Garros. The other came in the fourth round in 2009 against Robin Soderling.
Before that, Nadal had won four championships in a row at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament. Since that lone previous setback, Nadal had collected a record five consecutive French Open trophies.
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic lost all six previous matches he'd played against Nadal in Paris, including the 2012 and 2014 finals.
But he was dominant for stretches this time, allowing Nadal only three winners off his heavy topspin lefty forehand, perhaps the most feared shot in all of tennis. In all, Djokovic conjured up 45 winners to only 16 for Nadal, whose 29th birthday was Wednesday.
By the end, Djokovic not only had broken down Nadal's game but also his usually unbending will. Appropriately for a match that did not live up to the hype, it closed with a whimper on a double-fault by Nadal.
This was only a quarterfinal because Nadal's ranking had slipped so far he was seeded sixth, despite all of his unprecedented success at the French Open. Significant as the victory was for Djokovic, no trophy was on offer. He'll have to wait for that.
Now Djokovic moves into the semifinals as he pursues his first French Open title, which would complete a career Grand Slam. On Friday, the 28-year-old Serb will meet either No. 3 Andy Murray or No. 7 David Ferrer.
Djokovic, who won his eighth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, now has a 27-match winning streak.
This was the 44th meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, more than any two other men have faced each other in the nearly half-century of professional tennis at major tournaments. And while Nadal still leads 23-21, Djokovic proved to be far superior on this particular late afternoon.
There were only a few puffs of clouds in an otherwise electric blue sky — matching the color of Nadal's entire ensemble, from headband to wristbands to socks and shoes — and Djokovic began superbly. He managed to avoid too many lengthy baseline exchanges, mixed in drop shots — five won points in the opening four games — and used his backhand to perfection.