Djokovic shuts out French Open silence and boos to set up Nadal semi-final

Novak Djokovic moved into the semi-finals at Roland Garros for a 58th showdown with Rafael Nadal, surviving a third-set hiccup to beat Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in a match soundtracked by cheers and silence after the players were forced to leave the court so spectators could be persuaded to go home as the national curfew approached.

A rowdy crowd had convened for the first night session with fans allowed at this year’s tournament due to the relaxation of restrictions in France and a later 11pm curfew. Although they roared for his opponent, they witnessed Djokovic tear past Berrettini with relative ease for much of the match as he established a two-set lead. The world No 1 then conceded only three points on his serve to set up a third-set tie-break.

Djokovic seemed to be en route to victory in the breaker after executing a supreme backhand return at 4-4 to put himself within two service points of victory. But out of the blue, he choked.

In consecutive points, Djokovic landed strong first serves that generated short returns, then missed his first groundstroke. As the score swung from 5-4 aan 5-6, Berrettini saw the opportunity and on his first set point he nailed a forehand winner to take it.

As the match rolled into a fourth set, what followed was an absurd sign of the times. With the hour approaching 11pm, the umpire, James Keothavong, instructed the crowd to leave at repeated changes of end.

Tennis has become familiar with matches disrupted by time cut-offs after similar problems at the Australian Open and recently in Rome, but not with the sight of a crowd refusing to move. The French spectators responded with boos and remained in their seats, leading to a drastic, ad-hoc resolution.

At 10.56pm, with the score 3-2 to Djokovic, the players were forced to go back into the locker rooms so that the fans would finally depart from the stadium.

As those that remained took photos by the empty court and showed little urgency in leaving, the players did not return for 15 minute. They reappeared to finish the match in silence, with Djokovic snatching a break at 6-5 and closing out the win. As he celebrated loudly to nobody but his team, his screams echoed across 15,000 empty seats.

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