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Nadal survives Felix scare, sets up Djokovic blockbuster at French Open

Paris, May 30 (IANS) Spanish stalwart Rafael Nadal — winner of a record 21 majors and 13-time champion at Roland Garros — won yet another thriller to set up a quarterfinal clash with Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the French Open.

The 35-year-old Nadal survived a major scare from Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in front of a packed crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier before advancing 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and improving to 109-3 at the clay-court major.

In a gripping clash, Nadal lost the first set in a match at Roland Garros for just the 11th time. However, the Spaniard kept his composure to move into the last-eight after four hours and 23 minutes.

“He is a great player without a doubt. One of the best players in the world,” Nadal was quoted by atptour.com 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.”

Prior to Sunday, Nadal had been taken to five sets in just two of his 111 matches at the event. He defeated John Isner of the US 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-4 in 2011 and overcame Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7 in 2013. With his victory, Nadal has now reached the quarterfinals in 16 of his 18 appearances in Paris.

The world No. 5 won the inaugural major of 2022, taking the Australian Open crown in January and is aiming to win a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam this fortnight in Paris. The fifth seed will next face Djokovic after the top seed defeated Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

The Serbian had defeated Nadal in the semifinals last year before he downed Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas to lift the trophy in Paris for the second time. Djokovic leads Nadal 30-28 in their ATP head-to-head. Nadal has won seven of their nine matches at Roland Garros.

“We know each other well,” Nadal said looking ahead to his match against Djokovic. “We have a lot of history together. He came here after winning in Rome. For me, it was not an ideal situation to arrive here. But here we are. We are at Roland Garros, it is my favourite place without a doubt. The only thing I can tell you, I am going to be focused and try my best. The only thing I can guarantee is that I am going to fight until the end.”

Nadal now leads Auger-Aliassime 2-0 in their ATP head-to-head.

The ninth seed Auger-Aliassime was aiming to become the eighth player to reach the quarterfinals of all four Slam events prior to turning 22 years old. The other seven all rose to world No. 1 in the ATP Rankings in their careers.

–IANS

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