There was no trophy, and no title, on offer for
Perhaps there should have been, considering what he accomplished.
Thoroughly outplaying the best there's ever been on red clay, Djokovic ended
"A match," Djokovic said, "that I will remember for a long time."
It's only Nadal's second defeat in 72 career matches at Roland Garros — and second in 95 best-of-five-set matches anywhere on the surface. The other came in the fourth round in Paris in 2009 against Robin Soderling.
Before that, Nadal won four championships in a row. And since? Nadal collected a record five consecutive French Open titles.
"I lost in 2009, and [it] was not the end," Nadal said. "I lost in 2015, and (it) is not the end."
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic lost all six previous matches they'd played in Paris, including the 2012 and 2014 finals.
But Djokovic's defense allowed Nadal only three winners off his heavy topspin lefty forehand, one of the most feared shots in tennis. With his coach, Boris Becker, jumping out of his seat to applaud, Djokovic conjured up 45 winners to only 16 for Nadal, who turned 29 Wednesday.
"He was better than me," Nadal said. "That's it."
By the end, Djokovic not only had broken down Nadal's game but also his unbending will. Appropriate for a match that did not live up to the hype, it closed with a whimper on a double fault by Nadal.
"An ideal scenario is today could have been [the final], and could have a different discussion," Djokovic said. "It's only quarterfinals, and I want to fight for the title. That's what I came here for."
Yes, significant as this victory was, Djokovic has more work to do in pursuit of a first French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam.
In Friday's semifinals, the 28-year-old Serb will meet No. 3
"I feel like I understand how I have to play on the surface better than I did in the past," said Murray, who is 15-0 on clay in 2015.
The 44th installment of Djokovic-Nadal was merely a quarterfinal because Nadal's ranking slipped so far he was seeded sixth, all of his unprecedented French Open success notwithstanding.
The 14-time major champion missed time last season with a right wrist injury, then had appendix surgery. He has spoken openly about a crisis in confidence from poor-for-him results in 2015: Wednesday's loss was his sixth on clay, his most in a year since 2003. When the rankings come out Monday, he'll be no better than 10th, his worst spot since 2005.
Djokovic, who won his eighth Slam title at January's
"You need to play very well to stand a chance against him, and the truth is that Rafael did not play at his best," said Toni Nadal, who coaches his nephew.
After 15 minutes, Djokovic led 4-0, taking 18 of the first 22 points, including one 19-stroke delight in which both men sprinted to track down lobs.
Then, as though suddenly recalling who he is and where he was, Nadal snapped to it.
It took Nadal 21 minutes to complete the minimal task of claiming a game, with the help of an on-the-run, down-the-line backhand passing winner so exquisite Djokovic gave a thumb's up. That helped the Spaniard get to 4-4.
Couldn't have known it at the time, but that turned out to be his last surge. Nadal saved three set points while trailing 5-4, then another two at 6-5, despite missing an easy overhead early in the game. But Djokovic converted his sixth chance, breaking Nadal to seize the first set.
Djokovic wanted the court watered after that, a request that was ignored, leading to a series of complaints from him to chair umpire Cedric Mourier. A couple of times in the second set, Djokovic slipped on the clay, then glared at Mourier.