Rafael Nadal sets up French Open semi-final against Diego Schwartzman after beating debutant Jannik Sinner
Rafael Nadal’s quest for a record-extending 13th French Open singles title remains on track after a quarter-final victory over Jannik Sinner in the early hours at Roland Garros.
The 19-time Grand Slam champion – who needs just one more major crown to move level with old rival Roger Federer – saw off his teenage opponent in straight sets under the lights on Court Philippe Chatrier, triumphing 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 6-1.
The match did not finish until almost 1:30am local time in Paris – where, unlike Wimbledon, there is no curfew – after being delayed by the earlier epic five-setter between US Open champion Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman, the latter of whom will face Nadal in the last four.
Nadal boasts a commanding 9-1 head-to-head lead over Schwartzman on the ATP Tour, with the duo meeting in the quarter-finals of the French Open in 2018 and in the last eight of both the US Open and Davis Cup last year.
The Argentine lost all three of the matches he played against Nadal in 2019, though did win their last meeting 6-2, 7-5 in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters last month.
Nadal did not have everything his own way against Sinner, with some uncharacteristic struggles at the net and wonderfully powerful striking from his teenage opponent – who had already beaten the likes of Alexander Zverev and David Goffin in Paris – causing problems in two competitive opening sets.
After showing that he would not be overawed in his first match against any of the so-called ‘Big Three’ of men’s tennis, Sinner was in a position to serve out an engrossing first set that lasted for an hour and 10 minutes after breaking to lead 6-5, yet the greater experience of Nadal ultimately shone through as he hit back straightaway before taking the ensuing tie-break 7-4.
However, the 19-year-old quickly seemed to shake off that disappointment and continued to more than hold his own, breaking again to open up a 3-1 lead in set number two.
But once again he failed to capitalise on that opportunity, with Nadal breaking back at the first try for a second time in the match.
Sinner continued to play some eye-catching shots, but could not stop Nadal from breaking again to turn a 1-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead before serving for a 2-0 advantage.
The ‘King of Clay’ was never likely to relinquish his lead from such a dominant position and he duly cruised through the third set, finishing with aplomb as he thundered down an overarm smash in front of a small crowd that had stayed past 1am to watch his latest French Open victory.