PARIS, June 7 (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal displayed the athleticism and self-belief that earned him seven French Open titles to tame world number one Novak Djokovic 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7 in a pulsating 4-1/2 hour Roland Garros semi-final on Friday.
In a match of high-drama featuring a point penalty, a near tumble over the net and trick-shot mishaps, it was the sinew-stretching rallies that made the difference as Nadal withstood Djokovic's baseline onslaught to extend his run at the claycourt major to a jaw-dropping 58-1.
Nadal had stood two points from the final in the fourth set when he inexplicably let Djokovic off the hook by dropping serve at 6-5 up.
Djokovic blitzed through the fourth set tiebreak 7-3 and then streaked into a 4-2 lead in the decider when Nadal's fighting instincts kicked in to leave the Serb floundering.
A forehand long on match point secured Nadal an unprecedented eighth appearance in the Paris final and a meeting against either home hope Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or fellow Spaniard David Ferrer. (Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Mark Meadows)