French Open: Rafael Nadal wins to set Novak Djokovic quarter-finals in Paris
|Day: May 22 – June 5 Location: Roland Garros, Paris|
|Network coverage: Live radio and text commentary on selected matches on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sport’s website and app|
Rafael Nadal set up his French Open quarter-final against longtime rival Novak Djokovic by winning a five-set battle against Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in Paris.
Nadal, 35, of Spain, dropped the set for the first time at this year’s event but recovered to win 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3.
Top seed Djokovic sublimated to beat 15th seed Diego Schwartzman.
The 35-year-old Serb produced his best form to date in the tournament to win 6-1 6-3 6-3 in his fourth-round match.
Fifth seed Nadal sealed his 59th career meeting with Djokovic – a men’s record – by beating ninth seed Auger-Aliassime to his 109th win in 112 matches at the French Open. .
Nadal is at risk of being knocked out at Roland Garros at the earliest since 2009 when Auger-Aliassime displayed the quality and composure to tie a fifth set on Court Philippe Chatrier.
It was only the third time Nadal has been hit with a winning goal on the Paris clay court.
In front of a glamorous crowd, Nadal proved once again why he is so special on the court, where he has enjoyed some of the greatest successes of his career.
Nadal has found an extra level when it matters and uses all of his experience to maintain clarity of thought in decisive moments.
At 4-3 in the deciding set, he stretched to knock a forehand winner down the line for two break points and converted the second by rushing forward for a backhand push.
As he prepared to serve for victory, Nadal’s name was chanted around Chatrier and he won – after nearly four and a half hours – at the point of his first match with some clever touches. skilfully into the net.
“It was a very important win for me, no doubt,” said Nadal, who has never lost before the fourth round at Roland Garros.
“I didn’t start the game well, I had a lot of chances to save but I couldn’t convert. After finishing first in the second half, I finished the third half much better.”
“I was very pleased with the attitude at the last minute because I was able to play more offensively and get in the net more. That made the difference no doubt.”
Elsewhere, Alexander Zverev secured his place in the quarterfinals despite a lackluster performance against Bernabe Zapata Miralles in the Spanish qualifiers as the third seed won 7-6 (13). -11) 7-5 6-3.
The 25-year-old German will next face the winner of Sunday night’s encounter between Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz and Karen Khachanov.
Djokovic uses crowd energy to beat Schwartzman
Two-time French Open champion Djokovic has played fewer tournaments than usual this year but is showing signs of peaking at just the right time.
Schwartzman, the 2020 semi-finalist, is arguably Djokovic’s toughest test to date.
But Djokovic saw off the tiny Argentine with a professional performance that was less comfortable than the score suggested.
Djokovic was expelled from Australia and was not allowed to compete in this year’s opening Grand Slam event, then was banned from entering the US to compete in Indian Wells and Miami, because he was not vaccinated against Covid- 19.
After being knocked out early on his return to action at Monte Carlo, he has continued to improve since then and reached the clay Grand Slam after winning the Italian Open championship in Rome.
In Paris, he started with consecutive wins against Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, Alex Molcan of Slovakia and Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia.
Despite his status as one of the sport’s all-time greats, Djokovic doesn’t seem to be as popular at Roland Garros as Nadal or Switzerland’s Roger Federer and a few boos were heard. when he stepped out onto the field to face Schwartzman.
Schwartzman was supported by a rowdy crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second show court in Paris, and unleashed his full energy in the opening acts.
Djokovic had to defend well to hold out in his first game of service and then break serve in the next before pulling back three more games for the opening set.
Support continued to be fervently backing for Schwartzman, prompting Djokovic to sarcastically nod ‘yes’ as he led 3-0 at the start of the second set.
Momentum quickly backed off and a signature roar from Djokovic, who appeared to be using the crowd’s support for Schwartzman as extra motivation, marked the moment he leveled at 3-3.
Three more games capped a superb spin and, after a tight start in the third set, Djokovic took a 4-2 lead, extending his 100% record against Schwartzman to a seventh.
Zverev saw off Zapata Miralles in qualifying
Contrary to Djokovic’s dominant performance, Zverev produced just enough quality amid a frequent error performance to close the round by Spaniard Zapata Miralles.
The direct score saw the German make 63 no-shows and eight double errors but played well for most of the game’s key moments, beating 34 winners to 13 by his opponents.
Ultimately, his superb conversion rate taking advantage of eight of nine break-point opportunities proved the difference, especially in the 62-minute marathon first set where Zverev led 13-11. in the draw.
World No. 131 Zapata Miralles, who had won just one Grand Slam match before this tournament, took the lead twice before taking a break from serve in the second set but lost five of seven games by a score of 4-2.