Rafael Nadal charged into the net at the beginning of the fourth-set tiebreaker. His familiar biceps were rippling his lime green shirt.
In the French Open quarterfinal matches against Novak Djokovic, his lead was 2-1. He had also managed to hold off two set points in fourth. Extending this match to a fifth set could have exhausted his creaky 6′ 1″ frame. Nadal didn’t back down. Djokovic almost dared Nadal to launch something by him during tiebreaker.
Djokovic was too wide. He failed to make a crosscourt effort later. A drop shot was all he missed. All tiebreaker long, Nadal charged and slid across the red clay of Roland-Garros as he infiltrated the mind of one of the sport’s most cerebral players. The Spaniard has already won the French Open an incredible 13 times—and seems determined to clinch it again.
Nadal defeated Djokovic in Paris at 1 AM on Wednesday, winning 6-2. “I lost to a better player today,” Djokovic said after the match.
Nadal’s victory sets up a semifinal showdown on Friday with No. 3 Alexander Zverev, of Germany, who ousted Nadal’s compatriot, ascendant teenager Carlos Alcaraz, in a tough four-set match.
Carlos Alcaraz from Spain reacts when he meets Alexander Zverev, Germany, during Day 10 of 2022 French Open at Roland-Garros. The match was played in Paris, France on May 31st 2022.
Antonio Borga/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images
After he suffered a rib injury at the Indian Wells tournament in March, Nadal’s French Open status was uncertain. Just last month, Nadal revealed that a nagging foot issue leaves him in pain “every single day.” And yet, at 35, he knocked off the number one player in the world, in their 59th encounter, leaving Djokovic just one win ahead in their epic rivalry at 30-29.
With two days off before Friday’s semi, Nadal is two wins away from his 14th French title, a record, and his 22nd major championship, also a record. Roger Federer and Djokovic each have 20.
Continue reading: Naomi Osaka—”It’s O.K. Not to Be O.K.”
Djokovic’s COVID-19 status meant that he was not eligible to compete at January’s Australian Open. This left Nadal with the task of winning that event by rallying from two sets behind Daniil Medvedev. Nadal could be in contention to win the French Open title, which would make him eligible for the epic Grand Slam. No men’s player has won all four major events since Rod Laver did in 1969. Djokovic, who won the three mains and lost to Medvedev in U.S. Open final last year, was not far behind.
This could be Nadal’s last French Open—and if it is, he’ll go out a winner, even if he drops one of these next two matches at Roland-Garros. But if Nadal’s injuries can somehow remain at a tolerable threshold, this win over Djokovic proves he has great tennis left in him. He might win another 25 major titles.
Coco Gauff, USA, celebrates her win during Day 10 at the French Open 2022 Stade Roland-Garros in Paris on May 31, 2022.
John Berry/Getty Images
Even though the greats still play, a new wave of talent in tennis is proving their worth. Alcaraz. Given that he’s a Spanish clay-court maestro, the comparisons with Nadal are irresistible. Alcaraz (19 years old) reached the top 10, just 17 years after Nadal. After turning 19, Nadal won 2005 French Open Days. Alcarez failed to reach the pinnacle, but Alcarez whipped Roland-Garros fans into a frenzy and forced Zverev in a tiebreaker for a fourth set.
Coco Gauff (age 18), is the most cheering of all women. Gauff won her first Grand Slam semifinal by beating Sloane Stephens (7-5, 6-2) in quarters.
In 2019, she charmed the entire world when at just 15 years old, her idol Venus Williams defeated her in an amazing run to Wimbledon’s fourth round. Since then, she’s stayed diligent, gaining valuable experience before arriving at this moment.
“I feel like, last year, I was looking at the finish line,” Gauff said after her victory. “Now, I’m not looking at anything but the ball in front of me.”
Gauff faces an unseeded player, Italy’s Martina Trevisan, in Thursday’s semifinals. World number. The world number one, Iga Swaiatek (Poland), awaits to be a challenger in the finals. Swiatek won 32 matches in a row and is now 21.
These are great times to watch in tennis, for both young and old.
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