PARIS ( Associated Press) — Rafael Nadal has played in 112 career French Open matches until the end of only his third five-setter, as the sun and temperatures descended and “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” Filled the air of the evening, the man known as the king of the soil showed exactly what it meant to him.
With every sprint-slide-and-stretch to reach a seemingly impassable shot from the yellow racket of his opponent, Felix Auger-Aliassim; With every right corner winner; With every well-impacted volley, Nadal jumps or throws an uppercut or shouts “Vamos!” – and, often, all of the above.
Nadal entered nearly 4 1/2 hours of fun after beating ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassim 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in his first serious test at this French Open. did. In the fourth round on Sunday at the tennis court Philippe Chatrier.
And the reward? A tantalizing matchup against rival Novak Djokovic, who will head into the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
“Of course we know each other well. We have a lot of history together,” said Nadal, who didn’t drop a set in the first week of the tournament until the 21-year-old Auger—a big serving from Canada— Didn’t face two against Aliassim. “Here we are at Roland Garros. This is my favorite place, no doubt about it. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can only guarantee that I’m going to fight till the end.”
Nadal improved to 3-0 in five-set matches in the clay-court tournament in a way he had never dominated at any Grand Slam event. He is 109-3 on aggregate here, and two of those losses came against Djokovic, including last year’s semifinal.
Here’s how significant their rivalry is: Tuesday’s meeting will be their 59th meeting, more than any other two men in the game’s professional era. Djokovic leads 30-28, although Nadal has a 7-2 advantage at the French Open.
Looking at the bigger picture, Nadal’s record 13 championships at Roland Garros is part of his 21 Grand Slam trophies, a record for men. #1 Djokovic, who won the title twice at the French Open, is just one behind Nadal in total Slam count, who is tied at 20 with Roger Federer.
“Obviously a much-awaited match, I think, when it turned out to be a draw for a lot of people. I’m glad I didn’t spend much time on the court myself until the quarter-finals, knowing that playing him at Roland Garros is always a physical fight, along with everything else,” said Djokovic, who defeated 15th seed Diego Schwartzman. Beaten before Sunday 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 and won all 12 sets played in the tournament.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Djokovic said of the prospect of facing Nadal, “and probably the biggest challenge you can have here at Roland Garros.” I’m ready for it.”
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