Rafa Nadal gives artful performance in semis, advances to Sunday

Fans billed it the "Final before the Final." One online commentor said any Nadal vs. Djokovic match should be declared a national holiday, because no fan of tennis should have to go to work when two masters are at work on the clay.

Today's semifinal match at Roland Garros between top-seeded Novak Djokovic and third-seeded Rafael Nadal did not disappoint. Nadal was fighting for a chance to win his eighth French Open and 12th Grand Slam event. Djokovic was there to defend his top seed and look for his career Grand Slam.

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Rafa with fans in Paris

On Wednesday, PokerStars' ambassador Rafa powered though the quarterfinals, beating Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets (6-3, 6-3, 6-1).

As today's semifinal match began, fans looked at Nadal's 6-4 first set win and dominating presence on the clay. Some declared that match to be over-hyped. Nadal just looked too good.

And then Djokovic woke up to win the second set 6-3.

If it scared Nadal, he didn't show it in the third set where he dominated to win 6-1.

That set up a fourth set that will probably go down in every tennis fan's memory as one of the best they've seen. It looked less like a sport and more like performance art. It seemed to go on forever. Ultimately, Djokovic forced a tie-breaker and won 7-6.

Nearing the fourth hour of play in hot winds that pushed 25 miles-per hour, the pair's performance turned from pure art to pure grit. Quipped the commentating John McEnroe, "If this is playing it safe, I don't want to see what the guys do when they go for it."

It was only the second time the pair had taken it to five sets in a Grand Slam match. The first was at the 2012 Australian Open Final where Djokovic won 7-5 in the fifth.

In today's fifth set, no man gave up ground. By the time it was 6-6, the match had trascended its designation as a semifinal.

"This is starting to become one of those matches where you say 'I remember where I was when it was played,'" said one TV commentator.

Finally, at 8-7 and Djokovic's serve, Nadal rose above even his own reputation. At 4 hours 37 minutes into the match, Rafa advanced to the finals. It was his 58th (and record-tying win at Roland Garros).

"It's a very special match," Rafs said afterward.

Is there any chance the final could be as good? Is there any chance Rafa won't win again at Roland Garros? We'll learn on Sunday.

Congrats, Rafa, on a masterful performance.

Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in Rafa Nadal