Rafael Nadal battles to win Novak Djokovic quarter-final at Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal took his time but ultimately held his end of the bargain to set up the quarter-final showdown that will likely define this year’s French Open.

Nadal will face rival Novak Djokovic after defeating the determined Felix Auger-Aliassime in five thrilling sets in four hours and 21 minutes.

It was a game in stark contrast to Djokovic’s, with the world number one taking just two and a quarter hours to knock out Diego Schwartzman.

The receptions of the golden duo were also in clear contract with each other; Nadal’s entry and every point won was cheered at the rafters on Chatrier while, on Lenglen, Djokovic was booed as he strode onto the pitch and listened to an oddly hostile crowd.

Argentinian Schwartzman was clearly supported by a large South American and Spanish contingent, but the reigning champion’s teasing seemed excessive and even prompted Eurosport’s Alex Corretja to say: “I don’t like it. It’s Novak Djokovic. He gave us so much. »

Djokovic’s name was even booed when spoken during Nadal’s on-pitch interview, but he had already given the perfect answer with a 6-1 6-3 6-3 demolition of the 15th seed. series.

The Serb is yet to drop a set in the tournament as he targets a record 21st Grand Slam title.

“I got off to a good start, but I have a lot of work to do,” Djokovic said.

Rafael Nadal came out in five sets (Thibault Camus/AP)

That work will begin with Nadal on Tuesday, although the highly anticipated and blockbuster Round of 16 encounter at times appeared to be canceled on Sunday.

The Spaniard, on the hunt for title number 14 on Parisian red soil, attended the Champions League final on Saturday evening.

It appeared for a moment that he might have celebrated Real Madrid’s victory over Liverpool a bit too much, as he was beaten twice by Auger-Aliassime as he lost the opening set.

Nadal’s uncle Toni, who will have had mixed feelings as he coaches Canada’s ninth seed, watched from a position of neutrality in the presidential box as his nephew climbed into a 2-1 lead.

But when Auger-Aliassime took Nadal down in a fifth set – for only the third time at Roland Garros – it was too much for senior Nadal to bear and he left.

He missed a cracker from a decider, Nadal leaping in game eight and then serving despite a heroic defense from his young opponent.

“He is undoubtedly a great player, one of the best in the world,” Nadal said after his 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 victory.

“When I played well, I won the game. When I played less well, I had a lot of problems.

“But the most important thing is that I played a good fifth set, and especially the last three or four games that I played with the right dimensions, so I’m very happy for that.

“All respect and credit to Felix, he is playing better and better. If you are not able to fend him off, it is very difficult to control him, because he has a huge serve and his first forehand is very aggressive.

French Open Tennis
Félix Auger-Aliassime took Nadal to the end (Christophe Ena/AP)

The final sub-plot will be whether the tournament chiefs featured the Nadal-Djokovic match as a showpiece night session, given that it would therefore not be shown on free-to-air television in France.

The players will also have their say, and Nadal has already said he doesn’t like playing at night, while Djokovic smiled: “All I will say is Rafa and I would make different demands.” The first battle will have to be won before a ball is even hit.

Third seed Alexander Zverev won his fourth round match against Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles 7-6 (11) 7-5 6-3.

The German will face another Spaniard, teenager sixth seed Carlos Alcaraz, who beat Russian Karen Khachanov 6-1 6-4 6-4 in the night match.

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