Making his 100th appearance on the red clay of Paris, Rafael Nadal outclassed the Italian teenage sensation Jannik Sinner 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1 in just under three hours. With the quarterfinal win, which took his overall record at the claycourt Slam to 98-2, Nadal is now just two hurdles away from achieving his 13th French Open title.
But a tricky challenge awaits Rafael Nadal now, in the form of Diego Schwartzman in the semifinals on Friday.
While it is true that the ‘King of Clay’ won the quarterfinal match against Sinner in straight sets, the contest was far from straight-forward. The young Italian posed plenty of questions to the 34-year-old, especially in the first two sets.
As the defending champion gets ready to take on Schwartzman in the semis, it might be pertinent to take a look at the positives for Rafael Nadal from his win over Sinner.
#1 Rafael Nadal spent some much-needed time on the court
Rafael Nadal opted out of the Cincinnati Masters and US Open, which meant he had been out of competitive action for nearly seven months before he made his comeback at the Rome Masters. And the lack of match practice was very evident as the 34-year-old crashed out of the Italian Open at the hands of Diego Schwartzman.
Nadal is someone who always likes to have plenty of matches under his belt, building up momentum with each passing victory. Every year the Spaniard enters Roland Garros after playing a bunch of matches on clay - at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.
But the situation this year, as a result of the ongoing global pandemic, has been totally different. And while the Spaniard secured easy wins over his little-known opponents in the early rounds of the French Open, he barely spent any time on the court.
We all are well aware of Rafael Nadal’s prowess on clay, and everything he has achieved over the course of the last 15 years. But every player needs some time in the middle to get into rhythm, especially if you are trying to make a comeback after such a lengthy break.
Fortunately for Nadal, he not only faced some much-needed stiff competition from the young Italian, but also spent a decent amount of time on the court. That augurs well for the Spaniard as he prepares himself to compete against an equally gutsy challenger in Schwartzman on Friday.
#2 Rafael Nadal raised his level when it mattered the most
Tie-breakers have not been a strong suit for Rafael Nadal in recent times, with his relatively poor performance in them often costing him dearly. The most recent example of that is Nadal’s loss at the Australian Open earlier this year, where he lost all three tiebreaks against Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals.
In that context, Nadal winning the tiebreak against Sinner to clinch the first set was an extremely important event as he approaches the business end of the tournament. In slightly unfriendly and unfamiliar conditions at this year’s French Open, winning tiebreaks would probably be more important than ever for the Spaniard if he fancies going all the way.
In the first set, Nadal was broken in his sixth service game which allowed Sinner to serve for the set. But the 34-year-old, who wasn’t tested much in Paris until that point, showed resilience to lift his game to another gear and break Sinner back to force a tie-break.
Though Nadal won in straight sets, Sinner provided the defending champion stern competition for a set and a half. The Spaniard raised his level when he needed to, which would no doubt give him added confidence ahead of the semifinal stage.
#3 Rafael Nadal showed no signs of complacency
Complacency is not a word that you often associate with Rafael Nadal. But we have come across situations in the recent past where the Spaniard has squandered a lead by delivering a poor service game or by letting the opponent dictate the rallies.
On Tuesday though, Nadal's aggression and claycourt expertise ensured that Sinner had no chance of making a comeback. After securing the second set, the 12-time champion completely shut the door on the young Italian by becoming more and more authoritative with his play.
Rafael Nadal showed no signs of complacency or a let-down in intensity whatsoever, and that can only mean good news for him going forward.
In the upcoming semifinal against an inspired Diego Schwartzman who seems to be on a roll himself, it will be fascinating to see what strategy Nadal employs to reverse the Rome result from last month. But if his match against Sinner is anything to go by, the Spaniard's game and mind are in the right place to face any kind of challenge in Paris.Published 07 Oct 2020, 13:51 IST