PARIS: A fired-up Novak Djokovic repelled a stirring fightback by Italian Matteo Berrettini to claim a 6-3 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5 victory on Wednesday to set up a mouth-watering semifinal showdown with defending champion Rafael Nadal.
The 34-year-old bellowed a series of frightening roars after completing a victory that at one stage looked like a formality but became increasingly fraught as Berrettini threw the kitchen sink at the Serb who becomes only the second man to reach 40 Grand Slam semifinals after Roger Federer.
It was a spectacular conclusion to a match that was watched by 5,000 fans until midway through the fourth set when Paris's COVID-19 curfew meant the crowd were obliged to leave.
Djokovic led 3-2 at the time and when battle resumed he suffered a nasty fall, grazing his hand, but sensed his chance when Berrettini served at 5-6.
The Italian ninth seed, saved a couple of match points, the second with a sizzling forehand winner, after which Djokovic screamed angrily at his entourage and kicked an advertising board in disgust.
He got the job done at the third time of asking when Berrettini netted at the end of another high-octane baseline exchange. Djokovic, eyes bulging, then roared again towards his box, the sound echoing around an empty Court Philippe Chatrier.
It was a manic ending and showed exactly how much Djokovic wants a second French Open title, having claimed his first in 2016 to complete his career Slam.
Since then Nadal has been unbeatable on the Parisian dirt, extending his record total to 13 titles and counting, the last coming last October when he thrashed Djokovic in the final.
Djokovic said booking another clash with Nadal had not been behind his extraordinary reaction at the end.
"This match had it all: falls, crowd, break," he told reporters. "It was a lot of intensity. I just felt under tension the entire time and missed some chances to end it in three.
"It was just super, super stressful to constantly be under pressure... the reaction in the end was just me liberating that tension that was building up for the entire match."
Top seed Djokovic was given a mighty scare against Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti on Monday, losing the first two sets, before steamrolling to victory.
Nadal powers past Schwartzman
Rafael Nadal dropped a set at Roland Garros for the first time in two years but roared back to beat 10th seed Diego Schwartzman 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-0 on Wednesday and reach the French Open semi-finals.
Nadal had beaten Schwartzman twice before at Roland Garros, but he seemed to have met his match as the Argentine played with confidence, dominating the longer rallies and for a brief moment it seemed he had exposed a chink in the Spaniard's armour.
Dominic Thiem was the last player to take a set off Nadal in the 2019 final but Schwartzman ended the 13-times winner's run of 36 consecutive sets at Roland Garros.
"Losing sets is something I accepted during my tennis career. The thing that matters is how you recover from a set lost," Nadal, who is chasing a record-extending 21st Grand Slam title, told reporters.
Nadal stormed back into the match with a vengeance, wrapping up the final set in 26 minutes to move into his 14th Roland Garros semi-final where he will play either top seed Novak Djokovic or Matteo Berrettini.
Early in the opening set, Schwartzman was forced to save two break points, one electric rally ending when he won the point with a controlled lob over Nadal that earned the Spaniard's applause.
Nadal broke to love on Schwartzman's next service game with three consecutive winners to put pressure on the 28-year-old 10th seed, who broke back with a sharp forehand winner.
A second consecutive service break gave Nadal a 5-4 lead and this time he made no mistake on serve, closing out the set with a forehand winner down the line.
A fired-up Schwartzman raced into a 3-0 lead in the second set on the back of long rallies and clever approach shots to close out points which forced Nadal to go on the defensive.
Nadal won 12 of the next 14 points to level at 3-3 but an unfazed Schwartzman found a higher gear to hold serve, taking a 5-4 lead before breaking to level the match as the Philippe Chatrier crowd roared its approval.