Rafa Nadal wins in five sets to set up French Open quarter-final clash with Novak Djokovic
Rafa Nadal overcame a slow start and a tough challenge from Canada’s ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime with a thrilling 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 win on Sunday to set up a quarter-final tantalizing with world number one Novak Djokovic.
It was only the third time in 112 games that Nadal had been taken down to the fifth set at Roland Garros and he made sure to keep his unblemished record intact, claiming victory in four hours and 21 minutes to wild cheers from the crowd.
Nadal will be hoping to recover from the grueling competition in time for his next outing, where the defending champion awaits his 59th career encounter.
The Spaniard, who turns 36 on Friday, has won the Musketeers Cup a record 13 times but was ousted in the semi-finals last year by Djokovic.
Djokovic completed his win over Diego Schwartzman on Court Suzanne Lenglen shortly before his longtime rival started his match and the Serb is yet to drop a set in four rounds.
“We know each other well,” Nadal said of Djokovic. “We have a lot of history together. He came here after winning in Rome. For me, it was not an ideal situation to get here. But here we are. We are at Roland Garros, it is my favorite place without a doubt.
“The only thing I can tell you, I’m going to be focused and do my best. The only thing I can guarantee is that I’m going to fight until the end,” added the Spaniard who didn’t converted just six of his 22 break chances in the game.
The clash on the Philippe Chatrier court was the second meeting between Nadal and Auger-Aliassime but the first since Toni Nadal started working with the Canadian in 2021.
‘Uncle Toni’ was in Nadal’s squad for the majority of his record-breaking 21 Grand Slam singles titles, and preparation for the competition has been dominated by talk of coach Auger-Aliassime, aged 61 years old, against his nephew.
Toni Nadal did not sit in the box of the Canadian and chose a neutral seat and he would have been satisfied with the performance of Auger-Aliassime in the first set.
The 21-year-old showed immense courage and incredible athleticism to win the opening set, earning Nadal a round of applause on a point when he leaped up to volley a backhand volley.
Nadal wasted six break point chances in the first set but reduced his errors in the second and made his chance count in the eighth game to break his opponent and level the game at 1-1.
Nadal got the first break of serve in the third when Auger-Aliassime missed a few volleys over the head and another break in the seventh sealed the set and a 2-1 lead for the southpaw.
But the Canadian refused to leave.
After an early exchange of serve breaks, Auger-Aliassime broke Nadal’s delivery a second time to lead the contest to a deciding fifth set.
The last time Nadal played five sets at Roland Garros was in the 2013 semi-finals, when he beat Djokovic.
The Spaniard still had enough in his tank to clinch the decisive break against Auger-Aliassime in game eight and then held his serve, sealing the contest on his first match point with a winner.
“It was definitely a very important win for me,” Nadal said.