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Paris, Jun 7 (EFE).- Spain's Rafael Nadal needed all of his skill and competitive fire to rally from a break down in the fifth set and secure a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 9-7 victory Friday over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Friday's first French Open men's semifinal.
The contest between the seven-time Roland Garros champion and the Serbian was labeled by many as the "real final," considering that Nadal and Djokovic played in last year's championship match and have won a combined 17 Grand Slam singles titles.
Though both players are hard-hitting baseliners, the match featured a contrast in styles, with Nadal preferring to situate himself far behind the baseline on clay and hit with heavy topspin off both ground strokes, and Djokovic taking the ball earlier and hitting a much flatter backhand.
The match was filled with momentum swings, with Nadal striking first with a break in the seventh game and then riding that advantage to a comfortable first-set win.
It then appeared the Spaniard might be headed to a surprisingly routine victory when he went up a break of serve at 3-2 in the second set and the Serb's unforced error count steadily rose as he tried to force the issue on the slow surface.
But Djokovic responded by playing his best tennis of the match to reel off four straight games and even the match, powering through the defense of Nadal even though the Spaniard's level stayed high.
The momentum, however, swung back again in the world No. 4's favor after he dug out a service hold in the first game of the third set; Nadal then proceeded to race out to a 5-0 lead and Djokovic lost the intensity that he had shown earlier in the match.
But the real drama was to come.
Although Nadal seemed to have the match in hand, he twice surrendered a service-break lead in the fourth set, including getting broken when serving for the match at 6-5.
The set came down to a tiebreaker, which Djokovic won comfortably.
The Serb then kept his momentum going by securing an early break in the fifth set and it appeared the French Open might be getting a new champion in 2013.
Nadal, however, refused to go away and finally got the service break back to even the score at 4-4. During that eighth game, Djokovic also had to deal with the frustration of losing a point when he was unable to avoid touching the net with his body before his easy overhead put away had bounced twice.
The two then remained on serve until the 16th game of the final set, when Djokovic finally paid a heavy price for the lower margin of error on his shots and sent several balls over the baseline.
The Serbian also missed an overhead to start the final game that proved especially costly.
"It was an incredible match," Nadal, whose ranking has fallen slightly because a long injury-related absence from the ATP Tour, said in an on-court interview. "To play against Novak is always something unusual. We push each other to the limit."
Since coming back to the Tour in February, Nadal has reached nine consecutive finals.
On Sunday, he will be seeking his seventh title of the season and his eighth French Open championship, which would be a record for a single men's Grand Slam event.
Nadal, who already holds the record for most French Open titles, on Friday tied Argentine Guillermo Vilas and Swiss great Roger Federer for most wins at that tournament with 58.
His opponent on Sunday will be either countryman David Ferrer or Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Nadal, who has a combined 27-7 record against those two players, has lost to both of them in Grand Slam play but only on hard courts.