Roland Garros: King Of Clay Nadal Lives To Fight Another Day

Rafael Nadal (photo: Roland Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, May 29, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Rafael Nadal isn’t the King of Clay for nothing.

On Sunday, inside an electric atmosphere of Court Philippe-Chatrier at Stade Roland Garros, Nadal, a 13-time winner of the French Open, put on a performance that was nothing short of magnificent and incomparable. After it was over, Nadal truly had lived to fight another day, another battle, another opponent.

For four hours and 21 minutes, the 35-year-old Spaniard and 21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada put on a show of shows throughout their fourth-round battle that started in the afternoon and ended in the evening’s twilight. When it was over, after Nadal hit a seventh-shot cross-court forehand winner that alluded his opponent, the dream of winning a 14th Roland Garros singles title endured.

Nadal beat the ninth seed Auger-Aliassime, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, to move to 109-3 lifetime at Roland Garros. It set up a Tuesday quarterfinal showdown between the World No. 5 Nadal and No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic. It will be their 59th career meeting. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 30-28, but Nadal is 19-8 on clay against the Serbian.

After losing the first set in a Roland Garros match for just the 11th time, Nadal kept composed and continued to fight for every point. His winning mentality was on display for all to see.

Looking back, it seemed remarkable but not surprising that for just the third time in his 112 matches in Paris – and for the first time since 2013 – Nadal had to play a fifth set at Roland Garros. Yet, Nadal is 3-0 in those five-set matches. In the decisive set of Nadal’s victory against Auger-Aliassime, the Mallorca resident hit 15 winners and made just four unforced errors. For the entire match, he struck 47 winners to 41 unforced errors, while Auger-Aliassime hit 50 winners and made 54 unforced errors. Nadal outpointed his opponent 152-135.

“He is a great player without a doubt, one of the best players in the world,” Nadal said in his on-court interview when asked about Auger-Aliassime. “He is very young and with a lot of power and mobility. For me, he was a very, very tough opponent today. He does a lot of things well and has been improving and I wish him the very best for the rest of the season. It is a very important victory for me without a doubt.”

Djokovic: Garners 13th straight Roland Garros quarterfinal berth

Earlier, the top-seeded Djokovic advanced to his 13th straight Roland Garros quarterfinal – and 16th overall – with his 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 15 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in two hours and 15 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. It was Djokovic’s fourth consecutive straight-set win this fortnight and eighth consecutive straight-set victory overall going back to his Rome title run.

The victory was seventh in seven meetings for Djokovic against Schwartzman and it improved his career win-loss record at the French Open to 85-15. Only Nadal (109) has won more Paris matches than Djokovic.

“I’m ready for the physical battle,” Djokovic said Friday after winning his third-round match against Aljaz Bedene. “I haven’t spent too much time on the court. I have been striking the ball really well, so I look forward to that challenge.”

After beating Schwartzman, Djokovic said: “I have a lot of respect for him. He is a very good person, on and off the court, and he is a specialist on clay. So, it was not easy with the conditions we have today, with low rebounds on the court. But I think I have done well.

“I managed to serve well at the right moment. I am satisfied. I congratulate him on a good tournament and I wish him the best for the rest of the season.”

Zverev: Reaches quarterfinals but it wasn’t easy against Zapata Miralles

Third seed Alexander Zverev of Germany knew he had to be at his best against Spanish qualifier Benabe Zapata Miralles during their third-round match on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

“Obviously, he’s having the week of his life here, and playing a lot of great tennis,” Zverev said earlier of his fourth-round opponent. “So, I need to be at my best to give myself the best chance to win against him. I think when you have a run like that, you want to keep it going. He’s going to look forward to that.”

As if happened, the World No. 3 Zverev and No. 131 Zapata Miralles tussled for two hours and 45 minutes, including a 24-point first-set tie-break, before the German’s experience prevailed. Zverev won 7-6 (11), 7-5, 6-3, in their first meeting to advance to the quarterfinal round.

It was the first time Zapata Miralles had faced an opponent ranked in the Top 10. While his Paris experience ended in defeat, it was not before he had won six straight matches in Paris – three in qualifying and main-draw wins against Americans Michael Mmoh, Taylor Fritz and John Isner.

After the match Zverev gave props to Zapata Miralles during his on-court interview with Eurosport‘s Mats Wilander. “You could see how hard-working of a guy he is and how great of a guy he is,” he said. “I think everybody hopes he’s going to have more weeks like this. He can be a very good player. Hopefully, we’ll see him on this court more often.”

The 25-year-old Zapata Miralles, a native of Valencia, was attempting to become the first qualifier and lowest-ranked player to reach the Roland Garros men’s quarterfinals since No. 140 Marcelo Filippini in 1999.

Instead, Zverev’s experience and firepower from both wings made a difference between victory and defeat despite making 64 unforced errors. He struck 37 winners to 15 for his opponent and converted eight of nine break points. Zverev outpointed Zapata Miralles 124-108.

Next, Zverev will oppose No. 6 seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who defeated No. 21 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, in Sunday’s featured night session match on Court Philippe-Chatrier. It is the first Roland Garros quarterfinal appearance for the World No. 6 Alcaraz, who beat Zverev to win the Madrid title earlier this month.

Trevisan: ‘Paris, right now, feels like my second home’

Martina Trevisan can be forgiven for smiling so much when she’s on the tennis court. But guess what? It’s an effective and winning formula for the 59th-ranked Italian from Florence, who is through to her second French Open quarterfinal in three years following her 7-6 (10), 7-5 victory over Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

The triumph of pure joy extended Trevisan’s winning streak to nine matches after she won her first career WTA title in Rabat, Morocco nine days ago.

“I know that it’s weird that I was smiling but you know, it helps me a lot during the moment of more patience’s and more nervous,” Trevisan told Eurosport‘s Mats Wilander during her on-court interview. “I remember to smile and I feel better. It’s not easy to do because the situation is very tough but I practice it a lot.”

While Sasnovich was appearing in just her second major fourth-round match and first since Wimbledon in 2018, she had already beaten present and past US Open champions Emma Raducanu and Angelique Kerber in the previous two rounds. However, she let the opening set slip away, serving for it at 6 -5 only to be broken. Trevisan converted on her fifth set point to win the 74-minute opener 12-10 in a tie-break. Then, she rallied from 3-5 down and broke Sasnovich twice, then served out the victory on her first match point.

The left-handed-hitting Trevisan outpointed Sasnovich 85-73, hitting 19 winners to 33 unforced errors. She converted six of 14 break-point opportunities. Although Sasnovich broke Trevisan five times and struck 20 winners, she also committed 49 unforced errors.

Trevisan, 28, who captivated everyone with her 2020 quarterfinal run that began as a qualifier before losing to eventual champion Iga Swiatek, was asked by Wilander to describe what it is about Paris and Roland Garros that brings out her best tennis. She said: “Here in Paris there is a magic atmosphere for me. I like so much the court, the bounce is very high but at the same time it’s a very fast court. Paris, right now, I feel like it’s my second home.

“I’m just enjoying the moment. It’s two incredible weeks and I keep focus every day on everything I’m doing. Keep smiling, that’s most important, the first thing. Now to rest because I’m very tired.”

Fernandez: Into another major quarterfinal, enjoying the moment

Next, Trevisan will face No. 17 seed Leylah Fernandez of Canada. The 19-year-old from Montreal defeated No. 27 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States, 6-3 4-6, 6-3, in one hour and 54 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier to reach her second major quarterfinal and first at the French Open.

Fernandez, a 2021 US Open finalist and 2019 French Open junior girls’ champion, is into the second week of a major once again. She rose to the occasion by being the steadier player and fighter. Fernandez hit 35 winners, made just 17 unforced errors and broke the 20-year-old Anisimova’s serve six times in 10 opportunities, including twice in the final set. She outpointed her opponent 91-87.

This is the first time since March, when Fernandez repeated her title run in Monterrey, that she has won consecutive matches. Anisimova, who was a 2019 French Open semifinalist at age 17, had won 13 matches on clay this spring and made the quarterfinals or better at all three of her previous clay-court tournaments.

During a courtside interview with Tennis Channel‘s Jon Werheim, Fernandez was asked to assess her performance against Anisimova. “It was a very high-quality match,” she said. “Both of us were hitting winners, left, right and center. Amanda is an amazing player and I’m sure she’s an inspiration to many, many young generations – including me. I’m very happy I was able to raise my level when it mattered.

“I was able to have fun on the court and put on a good show for [the fans].

“I try to enjoy the moment as much as possible. I’m trying to keep my dream alive. That’s the most important thing. I keep fighting for what I want. If I lose, at least I gave everything that I’ve got. If I do win, good, then I’m on to the next round.”

Gauff: Remains youngest player in women’s draw

No. 18 seed Coco Gauff of the United States, the youngest player (age 18) in the women’s draw, has advanced to the Paris quarterfinals for the second straight year. Sunday afternoon on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Gauff gave an impeccable performance in defeating No. 31 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-4, 6-0, in one hour and 24 minutes. She won the final eight games of the fourth-round match after being broken twice early in the opening set.

“I knew today was going to be a tough match,” Gauff said in her on-court interview. “Last time we played was three sets. Honestly, today I just tried to enjoy the moment. There were some tough moments in the first set and I just fought through them.”

Gauff hit 19 winners to 17 unforced errors compared to 15 winners and 25 unforced errors for Mertens. Gauff broke Mertens six times outpointed her 64-42.

“This is the best match that Gauff has played during the 2022 season by far,” Tennis Channel analyst Lindsay Davenport said. “She finished with more winners than unforced errors and I think just how she moved around the court as well, she’s so fluid out there. It was very hard for Mertens to really finish any points off. [Coco] has her own expectations. She’s in a section of the draw that’s she knows is pretty wide open.”

Next, Gauff will play fellow American Sloane Stephens, ranked 64th, who was a finalist at the French Open in 2018. Stephens eliminated No. 23 seed Jil Teichmann of Switzerland, 6-2, 6-0, in 63 minutes and won the final 12 games of the match.

Around Roland-Garros

Sunday’s French Open results

Monday’s French Open order of play

By the numbers

Martina Trevisan is the third Italian woman in the Open Era (since 1968) to reach two or more Roland Garros quarterfinals. She joins Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani.

• The top eight men’s seeds are into the Roland Garros fourth round for the fourth time in eight years (also 2015, 2017, 2019). The last Grand Slam event with a men’s quarterfinal lineup comprised entirely of the top eight seeds came at Wimbledon in 1960. Never in the history of the French Open, since 1925, have the top eight seeds reach the men’s quarterfinals.

“Quotable …”

“After two years of seeing Paris in a locals-only state, visitors are back. Tennis fans are packing Roland-Garros, giving a greater appreciation to the enlarged grounds. Now, fans from all corners are here for the Champions League final. Paris is back to life and the reward is seeing the city as it should be – an incredible mélange of the world.”

Ted Robinson, Tennis Channel commentator, interviewed via email by Tennis TourTalk.