Paris, Jun 9 (EFE).- Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal have been on a collision course for days and on Wednesday booked yet another late-round Grand Slam clash with four-set French Open quarterfinal victories.
Both matches were played with more atmosphere on Court Philippe-Chatrier, since 5,000 fans were allowed in the seats after the French government eased the country’s coronavirus restrictions.
The 34-year-old Djokovic, an 18-time Grand Slam champion, rolled through the first two and a half sets against ninth-ranked Italian Matteo Berrettini and then recovered after dropping a tight third set and dealing with a fan-related disruption over the last few games to record an emotional 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 victory.
The Serbian struggled to hold serve in his first four service games and had to save three break points over that stretch. But he managed to secure a crucial break in the fourth game en route to taking the opener.
Djokovic then dominated the second set by neutralizing Berrettini’s power, keeping his unforced errors to a minimum and winning all but five of his service points. He also coolly converted his break-point chances at the first time of asking.
The world No. 1 seemed on the verge of a straight-set win when Berrettini was serving at 4-4, 30-40 in the third set, but the Italian got out of that jam and then used his massive forehand to great effect to force a tiebreaker and then – to the delight of the crowd – finish off the set when serving up 6-5.
Djokovic became rattled when the match needed to be delayed midway through the fourth set to clear out a group of fans who refused to leave in compliance with a nighttime curfew.
Even so, the Serbian remained rock-solid from the baseline in the fourth set and refused to crack on his service games.
The Italian nearly forced a tiebreaker, but Djokovic managed to create three break points in the 12th game and took the last of them when Berrettini netted a slice backhand.
He then let out a series of primal screams inside the empty stadium that he later said were just his way of letting off steam.
“It was just super, super stressful to constantly be under pressure on my service games, because his service games were quite smooth with the big serve,” the world No. 1 said. “The reaction in the end was just me liberating that tension that was building up for the entire match.”
The day’s first men’s quarterfinal unfolded in a completely different fashion.
Nadal was under severe pressure for nearly three whole sets from an inspired Diego Schwartzman, who came out determined to pull off a massive upset.
But the third-ranked Spanish great won nine straight games at the end of the match to clinch a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory and reach the French Open semifinals for the 14th time.
The Argentine executed his game plan to near perfection in the second and third sets, taking the ball early off both forehand and backhand and also showing an improved transition game from the baseline to the net.
The 10th-ranked Schwartzman struck 10 winners to Nadal’s six in the second set and continued to play impressively from the baseline in the third set.
But Nadal won the match on the strength of a ruthlessly efficient service game, as he won all but five of his service points in the third set and lost just one point on serve in the final set.
The match slipped away quickly for Schwartzman in the fourth set, as he shockingly won just five of the 30 points played.
“I started badly in the second set, then I was able to come back,” the 35-year-old Nadal said afterward. “But at 4-4, returning with the wind, I played a bad game and hit a double fault in the next game. I needed to play more aggressively and I did so throughout the rest of the match. I won an important match today against a tough opponent. I was able to find a way to play my best tennis in the moments that I really needed to.”
Nadal, who is seeking a record 21st Grand Slam men’s singles title at this year’s Roland Garros, said when asked about the prospect of facing Djokovic in Friday’s semifinals that “we are living the sport for these moments.”