Rafael Nadal insists he can’t know for sure whether any match at Roland Garros might be his very last at a place he loves, a place he is loved.
For now, if he keeps winning and keeps performing the way he did during his monumental quarterfinal victory over longtime rival Novak Djokovic that began in May and ended in June, Nadal will have more chances to play.
With a mix of brilliant shot-making and his trademark resilience, Nadal got past the top-seeded defending French Open champion Djokovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) to move a step closer to his 14th championship at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament and what would be a 22nd major trophy overall, adding to records that he already owns.
“One of those magical nights for me,” Nadal said.
For anyone lucky enough to be there, too — provided they were able to stay awake — or even anyone watching from afar. The match began a little past 9 pm Tuesday and concluded more than four hours later, after 1 am Wednesday.
“TV decides,” Djokovic said about the late start. “That’s the world we are living in.”
WATCH | Nadal outlasts Djokovic at French Open:
The bracket said this was a quarterfinal, yes, but it felt like a final, from the quality of play to the quality of effort, from the anticipation that preceded it to the atmosphere that enveloped it.
The only missing ingredient: There was no trophy handed to the winner.
Nadal turns 36 on Friday, when he will face third-seeded Alexander Zverev in the semifinals. When the subject of Nadal’s future was brought up during his on-court interview, he smiled.
“See you, by the way, in two days,” Nadal said. “That’s the only thing that I can say.”
It’ll be difficult for any match the rest of the way to live up to this one.
Nary a game, a point, a stroke or, indeed, a step came with a hint of insouciance. Both men gave their all. Nothing came easily.
Nadal’s 3-0 lead in the second set did him no good; Djokovic ended up taking it and would say later, “I thought, `OK, I’m back in the game.”‘
But Djokovic’s 3-0 lead in the fourth did him no good, even though he served for it at 5-3, even standing one point from forcing a fifth twice. Nadal saved those set points and broke there, then ran away with the closing tiebreaker, seizing a 6-1 edge and and never losing focus after his first three match points went awry.
“I lost to a better player today,” said Djokovic, who had won 22 sets in a row until the 49-minute opener against Nadal. “Had my chances. Didn’t use them. That’s it.”
This showdown was their 59th, more than any other two men have played each other in the Open era. Nadal narrowed Djokovic’s series lead to 30-29 while improving to 8-2 against his rival at Roland Garros.
Nadal is now 110-3 for his career at the place. Two of those losses came against Djokovic, including in last year’s semifinals. This time, Nadal made sure Djokovic remains behind him in the Slam count with 20. Nadal broke their three-way tie with Roger Federer at that number by capturing the Australian Open in January, when Djokovic was not able to play because he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Fernandez’s hopes of deep run comes to close
Leylah Fernandez’s dream run at Roland Garros ended in the quarterfinals Tuesday — a combination of a tough matchup against fellow left-hander Martina Trevisan of Italy and a right foot injury that required treatment in the first set of a 6-2, 6-7 ( 3), 6-3 defeat.
Trevisan served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, only to be broken and have Fernandez fight back to take the set in a tiebreak.
The third set looked like one-way traffic at 0-4. But Fernandez continued to fight. It took nearly an hour for the 28-year-old Italian, a surprise quarter-finalist in Paris in 2020, to earn her second match point.
This time, she finished the job, and is off to her first Roland Garros semifinal to face fellow first-time Grand Slam semifinalist Coco Gauff of the United States.
The trademark energy, exuberance and demonstrativeness was absent in Fernandez’s game Tuesday, no doubt in part due to concerns about the foot.
There had been no sign of a problem during her practice session on Monday, at least not during the first hour. But it appears to have been a pre-existing issue.
WATCH | Ailing Fernandez falls in 3 quarter-final sets at Roland Garros:
After several hours during which Fernandez was said to be having treatment, and a couple of postponements, the Canadian did not meet with the media to shed light on the injury “on advice of the tournament medical team.”
She was spotted in the women’s dressing room with crutches.
In fact, not much is known at all, especially not whether the injury is serious enough to affect her preparation and competitive plans during the short grass-court season leading up to Wimbledon next month.
‘Hard luck’ day
A few brief questions put to Fernandez by the WTA communications officials yielded little information, although she was not asked what the problem was.
“Today was definitely hard luck. I did feel it before the match, but I didn’t think much of it. You know, it just happened and we are just going to have to learn from this,” Fernandez said during a 58- second audio clip.
On the last point of the 2-2 game in the first set, Fernandez came up limping.
Upon arrival at her chair, the physical trainer and doctor came out to treat what appeared to be a problem on the top of her right foot, near the toes.
She also took a couple of tablets from the tournament doctor.
The foot was wrapped. And some 20 minutes later, when the pills finally kicked in, she did mount more resistance.
But in the end, it was the combination of adrenalin and determination that pushed the match to a third set.
This was Fernandez’s first Roland Garros quarter-final, with a big crowd in Court Philippe-Chatrier and a semi-final berth at stake.
“It is a little hard at the moment to find some positives, because of course I wanted to get to the semifinals. But I think I will just have to take a few days and then look back and see what I have done well,” Fernandez told the tournament official. “We are just going to go from there. Right now I will see what I can do to recuperate as quickly as possible.”
Fernandez was not scheduled to play in the opening week of the grass-court season next week. Her next scheduled tournament is the WTA 500 in Berlin, Germany that begins on June 13.
Trevisan ‘nervous’ in 1st match point
Trevisan had a chance to win in two but Fernandez, hobbled by a foot injury, saved a match point and then won the tiebreaker.
“In the first match point I felt a little bit more nervous,” Trevisan said in her on-court interview. “I thought too much … that I was one point from the semifinal.”
Trevisan double-faulted twice in the tiebreaker but won the first seven points of the third set and broke twice en route to a 4-0 lead.
Fernandez was 7-2 in three-set matches this year but Trevisan but won the first seven points of the third set and broke twice en route to a 4-0 lead.
Fernandez entered the French Open as the 18th-ranked player in the world but was unable to get past the 59th-ranked Trevisan.
Gauff disposes of Stephens
The quarter-final appearance was the most success at Roland Garros for Fernandez, who was the only Canadian remaining in action at the French Open.
It was the 10th straight win for Trevisan, who reached the French Open quarter-finals two years ago. She won her first tour title this month in Rabat, Morocco.
Gauff powered past fellow American Sloane Stephens 7-5 6-2 in her biggest victory at a Grand Slam.
MAKE IT 30-29 🔥🔥🔥 @RafaelNadal wins the battle against the World No. 1 @DjokerNole 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 and is now into the < a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RolandGarros?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RolandGarros semi final! 🙌@rolandgarros pic.twitter.com /tZ5oDHu67U
Trevisan beat Gauff in the second round at Roland Garros during their quarter-final run in 2020.
“I feel so happy right now. Words can’t explain it,” the 18-year-old Gauff said after reaching her first semifinal at a major. “Last year in the quarters was a tough loss and that made me stronger for moments like today.”
Zverev stops Alcaraz
A lot of folks were predicting that 19-year-old rising star Carlos Alcaraz would leave this French Open as the champion. He might some day. Not yet. Instead, it’s Alexander Zverev who still has a shot at his first Grand Slam title.
Zverev put an end to Alcaraz’s 14-match winning streak by holding him off to win 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7) on Tuesday night, reaching the semifinals at Roland Garros for the second year in a row.
“I told him at the net, ‘You’re going to win this tournament a lot of times, not just once,'” said the third-seeded Zverev, the runner-up at the US Open in 2020 and the gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. “I hope I can win it before he starts … beating us all.”
Zverev will now go up against the winner of Tuesday night’s far-more-anticipated, far-more-intriguing quarter-final between defending champion Novak Djokovic and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal. That one was such a big deal that it was made available for free throughout France via the streaming service that has exclusive access to this year’s night sessions at the clay-court major.