PARIS — With the sun and the temperature dropping and “Rafa! Rafa!” filling the evening air, the man known as the King of Clays aptly illustrates what that means to him.
Every sprint, slide and stretch to shoot a seemingly out of reach ball from his opponent Felix Auger-Aliassim’s yellow racket; winner of every corner right; good hit every time Volleying, Nadal would jump or throw an uppercut or scream “Vamos!” — and, usually, all of the above.
Nadal beat No. 9 seed Oger Aliassim 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in nearly 4.5 hours to pass his French Open. The first severe test. The fourth round of tennis at the Philippe Chartiers on Sunday.
and reward? A good showdown with rival Novak Djokovic will lead to the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
“Of course, we know each other very well. We have a lot of history together,” said Nadal, who didn’t drop a set in the first week of the competition until a meeting with 21-year-old big-name player Oger Aliasim from Canada. Lost two sets in the match. “We’re at Roland Garros. It’s my favorite place, without a doubt. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the only thing I can guarantee is that I’ll fight to the end.”
Nadal went 3-0 in five sets in the clay-court tournament, and he dominated any Grand Slam like never before. Overall, he’s 109-3 here, losing to Djokovic twice, including last year’s semifinal.
Here’s how important their rivalry is: Tuesday’s meeting will be their 59th meeting, more than any other two have faced each other in the sport’s professional era. Djokovic led 30-28, although Nadal led 7-2 at the French Open.
Looking at the big picture, Nadal’s record 13 titles at Roland Garros is part of his 21 Grand Slam trophies, a men’s record. No. 1 Djokovic, who has won the French Open twice, is just one place behind Nadal in Grand Slam totals and tied for 20th with Roger Federer.
“Obviously it was a highly anticipated game and I think, when the draw came out, for a lot of people. I’m glad I didn’t spend too much time on the pitch until the quarter-finals because I knew Playing him at Roland Garros is always a physical battle, and everything else,” said Djokovic, who beat 15th seed Diego Schwartzman. Won all 12 sets he has played in the tournament early Sunday, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Djokovic said of the prospect of facing Nadal. “It’s probably the biggest challenge at the French Open. I’m ready.”
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