|Appointment: May 22-June 5 Venue: Roland Garros, Paris|
|Cover: Live text and radio commentary of selected matches on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, the BBC Sport website and app|
Rafael Nadal set up a French Open quarter-final against longtime rival Novak Djokovic by winning a thrilling five-set battle with Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in Paris.
Spaniard Nadal, 35, dropped sets for the first time at this year’s event but recovered to win 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3.
Top seed Djokovic kicked into high gear to beat 15th seed Diego Schwartzman.
The 35-year-old Serb produced his best so far in the tournament to win 6-1 6-3 6-3 in their fourth-round match.
Nadal, seeded fifth, set up a 59th career meeting with Djokovic – a men’s record – by beating ninth seed Auger-Aliassime for his 109th victory in 112 matches at Roland Garros.
Nadal looked in serious danger of suffering his first outing at Roland Garros since 2009, when Auger-Aliassime showed quality and composure to force a fifth set on the Philippe Chatrier court.
It was only the third time that Nadal had been taken before a decision-maker on Parisian clay.
In front of a captivated crowd, Nadal once again demonstrated why he is so special on the court where he enjoyed the greatest successes of his career.
Nadal found an extra level when it mattered and used all his experience to maintain clarity of thought in decisive moments.
At 4-3 in the decider, he stretched to knock down a forehand winner down the line for two break points and converted the second as he rushed forward to push a backhand.
As he prepared to serve for the win, Nadal’s name was chanted around Chatrier and he clinched victory – after nearly four and a half hours – on his first match point with some deft touches at the net.
“It was a very important victory for me without a doubt,” said Nadal, who has never lost until the fourth round at Roland Garros.
“I didn’t start the game well, I had a lot of break chances but I couldn’t convert. After coming back in the next two, I finished the third much better.
“I’m very happy with the attitude at the end because I was able to play more aggressive and go to the net more. That definitely made the difference.”
Elsewhere, Alexander Zverev booked his place in the quarter-finals despite an uneven performance against Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles as the third seed prevailed 7-6 (13-11) 7-5 6-3.
The 25-year-old German will next face the winner of Sunday’s nighttime encounter between Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz and Karen Khachanov.
Djokovic uses crowd energy to beat Schwartzman
Two-time champion Djokovic arrived at Roland Garros having played in fewer tournaments than usual this year, but he is showing signs of peaking at exactly the right time.
2020 semi-finalist Schwartzman was supposed to be Djokovic’s toughest test so far.
But Djokovic beat the little Argentinian in a less comfortable professional display than the scoreline suggested.
Djokovic was expelled from Australia and not allowed to play in the opening Grand Slam event of the year, then banned from entering the United States to play in Indian Wells and Miami, because he was not vaccinated against Covid-19.
After an early exit when he returned to competition in Monte Carlo, he has since improved steadily and entered the Grand Slam on clay after winning the Italian Open in Rome.
In Paris, he started with straight-set wins over Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, Slovakia’s Alex Molcan and Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene.
Despite his status as an all-time great, Djokovic doesn’t seem to enjoy the same love at Roland Garros as Nadal or Switzerland’s Roger Federer and a few boos were heard as he took to the pitch to face Schwartzman.
Schwartzman was supported by a raucous crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second-largest show ground in Paris, and thrived on the energy of the opening stages.
Djokovic had to defend well to hold his first service game, then broke in the next before picking up three more games for the opening set.
The support continued to be loudly in favor of Schwartzman, leaving Djokovic to ironically nod his ‘approval’ as he led 3-0 early in the second set.
The momentum quickly receded and a signature roar from Djokovic, who appeared to be using the crowd’s support for Schwartzman as further motivation, marked the moment he leveled at 3-3.
Three more games capped off a stunning turnaround and, after a close third set start, Djokovic broke for a 4-2 lead that allowed him to extend his 100% record over Schwartzman to a seventh game.
Zverev defeats qualifier Zapata Miralles
Unlike Djokovic’s dominating display, Zverev produced just about enough quality amid an often error-strewn performance to end the run of unranked Spaniard Zapata Miralles.
The straight-line scoreline slightly flattered the German, who had 63 unforced errors and eight double faults but managed the majority of the game’s highlights, hitting 34 winners to his opponent’s 13.
In the end, his superb conversion rate taking eight of nine break point opportunities proved the difference, especially in a marathon 62-minute opening set that Zverev beat 13-11 on a tie-break.
World No. 131 Zapata Miralles, who had won just one Grand Slam match prior to this tournament, took the lead twice with breakouts in the second set, but lost five of seven of 4 -2.