As hoped for, the two players who have mopped up the French Open titles over the last decade, have come through their quarters of the draw to meet in the quarter finals on Tuesday with the reigning champion Novak Djokovic comfortably sweeping past Diego Schwartzman and the 13-time champion Rafa Nadal surviving a very strong challenge from Felix Auger Aliassime.
We have a lot of history together. He came here after winning in Rome. For me, it was not an ideal situation to arrive here. But here we are. We are at Roland Garros, it is my favourite place without a doubt. The only thing I can tell you, I am going to be focused -- and try my best. The only thing I can guarantee is that I am going to fight until the end Rafa Nadal
Djokovic simply dominated Argentina’s Schwartzman to reach the last eight at Roland Garros for a 13th consecutive time, 6-1 6-3 6-3.
“I have a lot of respect for him. He is a very good person, on and off the court, and he is a specialist on clay, so it was not easy with the conditions we have today, with low rebounds on the court, but I think I have done well,” Djokovic said after closing out his fourth consecutive match without dropping a set.
“I managed to serve well at the right moment. I am satisfied,” he added.
In contrast while Djokovic was hardly tested, his long-standing rival Nadal was kept out on court for four hours and 21-minutes before he closed it out in the early evening 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3.
Considering that was Nadal’s 109th victory at the French Open, it was only the third time he has been taken to five-sets at Roland Garros!
The Canadian is now being coached by his uncle Toni Nadal, who was originally instrumental in guiding his nephew to fame and fortune and it was evident he had prepared the young Canuck well as he took full advantage of the slow starting Spanish icon to storm into a 5-1 lead and a few games later, capturing the opening set.
Nadal responded as expected to pocket the next two relatively comfortably for a two-sets to one lead setting himself up for a four-set victory, but his 21-year-old opponent broke Nadal’s serve and hung on to force a decider!
There, Nadal quickly took control and while Auger Aliassime responded with some excellent play, the 35-year-old Mallorcan was not to be denied.
“I didn’t start the match well. I had a lot of opportunities in the first set, but I couldn’t convert one, so it was a tough first set for me,” Nadal admitted. “After coming back the next two sets, I think I finished the third playing much better.
“The beginning of the fourth was very tough. The first game was 0/30 and then 40/0 and I lost those two games. Then it is difficult. He has a huge serve, and I was not able to push him back. I am very happy with how I adapted at the end. I was able to play more aggressive and go more often to the net and it made a difference, without a doubt.”
More importantly for tennis fans, Nadal now faces Djokovic in what is being described as a ‘blockbuster’ clash between two of the favourites for this year’s title. The winner will certainly become a strong favourite to become the 2020 champion with the Serbian world No.1 hoping it will be his third and 21st at grand slam level while Nadal could be expected to extend his records to 14 at RG and 22 in Grand slam terms!
It will be their 59th meeting and the 18th time in a major and 10th at the French Open with Djokovic leading with 30 wins to Nadal’s 28 and as a consequence has the psychological advantage of having won their last meeting at the French 12 months ago.
“We know each other well,” Nadal said. “We have a lot of history together. He came here after winning in Rome. For me, it was not an ideal situation to arrive here. But here we are. We are at Roland Garros, it is my favourite place without a doubt. The only thing I can tell you, I am going to be focused — and try my best. The only thing I can guarantee is that I am going to fight until the end.”
But while that match is attracting the most attention, the others played on Sunday also set up an intriguing contest between Alexander Zverev, the world No.3 and Olympic champion against Carlos Alacraz, the teenage sensation from Murcia, Spain, who has only lost one match this season whilst collecting four titles including the Miami Masters.
Zverev beat another exciting new name from Spain, Bernabe Zapata Miralles who came through qualifying to reach the last 16.
The German lost an early break and saved a multiple number of set points in the first set to eventually dispatch him 7-6(11) 7-5 6-3.
“He was driving me nuts, to be honest,” said Zverev. “He’s one of the fastest guys on Tour, I could barely hit a winner against him. We played three sets, but we played close to three hours. He’s playing incredible tennis, so if he continues playing like this, I don’t see why his ranking is not going to go up even more.”
Meanwhile Alcaraz, playing his second night session, cruised past Moscow’s Karen Khachanov who fought hard but didn’t have the variety of shot required to tame this exciting teenager though to his credit, he fought hard right to the end.
The teenager never really looked in trouble as he won 6-1 6-4 6-4 to improve his current run of successive wins to 13 and will face Zverev, the man he beat for the Madrid title.
When he came off court, Alcaraz pointed out that he had now been scheduled for the night match twice and would like his next to be in the daytime when he faces Zverev for a place in the semi-finals.
Nadal has made no secret of his dislike of playing clay court tennis after dark and so far, he and Djokovic have only played one-night match apiece.
“Honestly, it wouldn’t seem fair to me. I’ve already played twice in the evening,” 19-year-old Alcaraz said.
“I’m not saying that it bothers me to play in the evening, but obviously I have less recovery time, if I finish very late all the time.
“When we finish at midnight, with all that comes with it — dinner, physio, trying to come down in terms of adrenaline — it’s harder to recover.
“If I play a third time in the evening, honestly it seems unfair to me,” he concluded.
Nadal’s lone night match was on Wednesday when he easily defeated France’s Corentin Moutet.
“I don’t like night sessions on clay,” the Spaniard admitted.
“I don’t like to play on clay during the night, because the humidity is higher, the ball is slower, and there can be very heavy conditions especially when it’s cold.”
Djokovic also leans toward playing in daytime.
“Today I’d rather play day than playing 9:00 p.m. Conditions are different today. It’s colder, slower,” he said.
“I historically played very well and won a lot of matches under the lights on different slams, particularly in Australia.”
For the organisers the problem of who will be featuring in the night session on Tuesday is becoming a bit of a headache with Zverev also calling for a daytime slot.
“I don’t mind the evening sessions when it’s 30 degrees during the day,” Zverev said.
“When it’s 14 degrees like today, then in the night it’s going to be what, 8, 9, something like that, it gets difficult.
“My serve is going to be even slower, my forehand is going to be even slower. It’s not going to be an easy thing for me to play at 9:30 at night with no sunlight, with no heat , and 8 degrees.”
And with a hint at player power, he concluded: “But I’m pretty sure I’m going to play at night against Alcaraz, because that’s just how it’s going to be!”
Meanwhile Monday’s schedule will determine the final quarter final places.
The 2021 finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on the Danish rising teen star Holger Rune while world No.2 Daniil Medvedev meets fellow US Open champion Marin Cilic.
Former quarter finalist Jannik Sinner of Italy meets Moscow’s Andrey Rublev while Norway’s Casper Ruud takes on Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz.