Even though he was getting steamrolled at the outset of Friday’s French Open semifinal against Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic wasn’t shaken.

He knew that Nadal boasted an otherworldly 105-2 record on the red surface of Roland Garros, where the King of Clay had won 13 of his record-tying 20 Grand Slam titles. But Djokovic also knew that it was just a matter of time until he adapted to the Spaniard’s topspin-laden blasts, unique in tennis, and could seize the upper hand.

Through a combination of devilish drop shots, line-painting backhands, unreturnable forehands and unshakable belief, Djokovic took charge in a match of exceptional quality and wild momentum shifts, defeating Nadal, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, to claim what he called one of the greatest victories of his career.

The victory, which spanned daylight to night, not only put Djokovic into the final, but it denied Nadal the chance to move past Roger Federer and stand alone atop men’s tennis with 21 majors. And he positioned himself, with 18 majors, to pull within one of his career rivals.

“Definitely the best match that I was part of ever in Roland Garros. Considering quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force in the last 15-plus years,,” said Dokovic, 34, whose focus now shifts to Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22, who reached his first Grand Slam final — and the first by a Greek player — earlier in the day with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Alexander Zverev.

Nadal, 35, was gracious in defeat, acknowledging afterward that Djokovic deserved the victory and thanking the crowd for its support throughout.

“It’s super emotional for me to feel the love of the people in the most important place of my tennis career,” Nadal said.

He also acknowledged the points he regretted, such as his double fault on set point in the third set — an instant classic of its own — as well as being “super tired” in stretches.

“It’s true. There [were] some crazy points,” Nadal said. “The fatigue is there, too, no?”

The Nadal-Djokovic semifinal marked the 58th meeting between the two (the Serb now holds a 30-28 advantage) and got underway on Court Philippe-Chatrier shortly after 7 p.m. in Paris, where a citywide curfew had been pushed back from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. earlier in the week as pandemic restrictions eased.

Nonetheless, attendance was capped at 5,000, roughly one-third capacity, but the crowd bellowed like a full house when Nadal strode onto court, with Djokovic, the higher seed by virtue of his No. 1 ranking, trailing.

The tone was set from the start. Every point was a battle, yet Nadal won the most important ones to bolt to a 5-0 lead.

Still, there was no reason to count out the Serb, the game’s most tenacious defender and agile mover, with blistering groundstrokes and deft drop shots. The more Djokovic played the aggressor, pouncing on Nadal’s topspin a split-second earlier and redirecting the pace, the better he fared. And he leveled the match at one set each.

“I just kind of found my rhythm, found my groove,” Djokovic said. “There was no looking back. After [losing the first set], I felt like I was in the match.”

By that point, nearly two hours had passed, and the all-out physicality of both men seemed unsustainable.

Then came the third set, which alone would have been worth a round-trip plane ticket to France. It lasted 97 minutes and was settled by a tiebreaker, with momentum swinging wildly on each break of serve. Fans shot to their feet in multiple standing ovations, and two-time French Open champion Jim Courier was left groping for superlatives.

“This is going into the canon of one of the great matches,” Courier said on the Tennis Channel broadcast. “It’s a ridiculous, eye-popping level of tennis.”

Chiming in via social media was two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who tweeted: “You cannot play better clay-court tennis than this. It’s perfect.”

Djokovic, serving at 5-6, saved a set point with a drop shot and went on to win the tiebreaker that followed to go up two sets to one.

At that point, 10:40 p.m. in Paris, the city’s mandatory curfew loomed. When a tournament official picked up a microphone to address the crowd, he was met with resounding boos and whistles from fans expecting to be ordered to vacate. Instead, he announced that under a special agreement with France’s national health authorities, fans would be permitted to stay until the match ended.

Fans exulted. Nadal got back to work.

He got an early break in the fourth set, seemingly dug in for whatever was required to force a fifth set.

But after falling behind early, Djokovic roared back again, attacking every predictable second serve of the Spaniard while rarely missing on his own first serve.

From there, it was over quickly.

And Djokovic, who declared himself deserving of a night’s celebration, has a full day to prepare for Tsitsipas, against whom he holds a 5-2 career edge.

Friday’s first semifinal started out as a romp for Tsitsipas but turned into an odyssey as Zverev found the consistency he lacked early to claw back from a two-sets-to-none deficit and force a fifth set.

Tsitsipas is the first Greek player to reach the final of a major, and he paid homage to his country during on-court remarks, fighting back tears.

“All I can think of is my roots, where I came from, a really small place outside of Athens,” Tsitsipas said. “My dream was to play here — to play on this big stage one day.”

And he underscored his national pride by tacking a sentiment onto the autograph victorious players customarily write on the broadcast’s primary camera lens, scribbling, “Let’s do it for the love of the country.”