Rafael Nadal played 112 tennis matches at Roland Garros during his career and he somehow lost only three times on these courts. But an even more absurd measure of his total dominance lies in how few players even managed to push him close to the edge, making him really doubtful. By Sunday afternoon, just twice during his 17 years any opponent had even extended him to five sets at the French Open.
Together came Felix Auger-Aliassime, who stepped up to Court Philippe Chatrier with quality, courage and faith in his abilities, and he took advantage of sub-wing Nadal to force a fifth set and push him all the way. But even as Nadal struggled with his game, when he urgently needed to step up, he hovered. Still in the fight for his 14th French Open title, Nadal defeated out Auger-Aliassime 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals.
Following Nadal’s victory, he and Novak Djokovic will resume their historic rivalry on the biggest stages when they meet each other in the quarterfinals for their 59th meeting on Tuesday.
“After all, the sport is normally very simple, isn’t it?” said Nadal later. “When you play better, you have better chances; if you play worse, then of course you have fewer chances, right? In that case, when I played well, I won the match. When I played not so well, I had a lot of problems, didn’t I? “
For the match between his two employers, his nephew and his post, Toni Nadal chose the most striking seat in the house – the first row of the presidential box. He watched as, after the joy of Real Madrid’s Champions League victory that Nadal had witnessed, on an extremely cold afternoon Nadal started the match extraordinarily.
While Nadal made mistakes and missed a lot of breaking points, Auger-Aliassime served well enough and played solidly from the ground to lead 5-1. Nadal took one break at the end of the set, and he began a seemingly inevitable recovery that culminated in a 4-3 break in the second set. Nadal then rode all of his momentum to two sets to one lead.
Just as Nadal seemed to be in control, he inexplicably started the fourth set with a set of unforeseen errors. Nadal lost his service in his opening game, then after immediately recovering from the break he gave it up again with worse front hand errors.
As Nadal struggled, Auger-Aliassime remained focused on himself. He peppered Nadal with good-time drop shots, he kept looking for hands-on to dominate and he was superior at the net. For his toughness and composure, he was rewarded with a fifth set.
During the final set, Auger-Aliassime continued to push himself to the limit, serving well and making difficult saves. But Nadal made his move at 4-3, completely raising his level by attacking returns and shutting down the net himself. After pushing hard to create a breaking point chance, Nadal chased down Auger-Aliassime’s fake volley, sliding a slice back into the open court to take the decisive break. As he served out the match with ease, after alternating between chants for the two players each match, the crowd ended up cheering for one man only.
“To be honest, every game I play here, I don’t know if it’s going to be my last game here at Roland Garros in my tennis career, right?” said Nadal later, referring to his chronic foot injury. “It simply came to our notice then. Of course I went through a difficult process on my own again, so I don’t know what can happen in the near future with my career. But that’s why I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as possible. ”
Auger-Aliassime has already lost a heartbreaking five-set against Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open this year, but despite further frustration he is leaving Paris to further show his progress. The 21-year-old’s efforts, along with coaches Fred Fontang and Toni Nadal, to make him a full-fledged player are bearing fruit. From the player who would run out of ideas in his early exchanges with the big players, here he continued to look for solutions and often found them.
For Nadal, the next hurdle is clear. Earlier in the day, Djokovic passed the 15th seed Diego Schwartzman without incident, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. “Playing him at Roland Garros is always a physical battle, along with everything else,” Djokovic said. “It simply came to our notice then. It’s a huge challenge and probably the biggest one you can have here at Roland Garros. I’m ready for it. ”
Later, Carlos Alcaraz moved into his first French Open quarterfinals after defeating Karen Khachanov 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. He will face Alexander Zverev, the third seed, later.