Once again, Rafael Nadal proved why he is the best player in French Open history by defeating long-time rival Novak Djokovic in a late-night thriller to advance to the men’s singles semi-finals.

Nadal, seeking his 14th French Open title, got out to a strong start and held off defending champion Djokovic to win 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-6 (7-4) at Roland Garros.

After more than four hours on the court, Nadal won at 1:15am local time. On Friday, the 21-time Grand Slam winner will meet third seed Alexander Zverev. After surviving a comeback by teenage phenom Carlos Alcaraz earlier on Tuesday, Germany’s Zverev, 25, advanced to the semi-finals for the second year in a row.

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“To win against Novak there is only one way: to play your best from the first point to the last,” said 35-year-old Nadal, who thanked the Paris crowd for showing their “love”.

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“This is one of those magic nights for me.”

Fifth seed Nadal avenged his semi-final loss to Djokovic last year and improved his Roland Garros clay record to 110 wins in 113 matches.

The pair’s rivalry is the longest durable in men’s tennis, with Nadal narrowing the deficit to 30-29 in the head-to-head after winning their 59th meeting.

“Nadal demonstrated why he is a great champion by remaining psychologically strong throughout the match. Without a doubt, he is deserving of it “Djokovic stated.