At the French Open, Legends of the Game and Up-and-Comers Are Serving Up Must-Watch Tennis
Rafael Nadal charged the net during the first point of the fourth-set tiebreaker, those familiar biceps rippling through his lime untried shirt.
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Up 2-1 in sets in the French Open quarterfinal match versus Novak Djokovic, he had once staved off a couple of set points in the fourth. Extending this match to a fifth set could have worn-out his creaky 6′ 1″ frame. So Nadal refused to when away. He practically dared Djokovic to wham something by him in the tiebreaker, betting that the Serbian player had nothing left.
Djokovic missed wide. Later, he misfired on a cross-court attempt. He left a drop-shot short. All tiebreaker long, Nadal charged and slid wideness the red soil of Roland-Garros as he infiltrated the mind of one of the sport’s most psychosomatic players. The Spaniard has once won the French Open an incredible 13 times—and seems unswayable to clinch it again.
Sometime without 1 a.m. on Wednesday in Paris, Nadal finished off Djokovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4). “I lost to a largest player today,” Djokovic said without the match.
Nadal’s victory sets up a semifinal showdown on Friday with No. 3 Alexander Zverev, of Germany, who ousted Nadal’s compatriot, reigning teenager Carlos Alcaraz, in a tough four-set match.
After he suffered a rib injury at the Indian Wells tournament in March, Nadal’s French Open status was uncertain. Just last month, Nadal revealed that a nagging foot issue leaves him in pain “every single day.” And yet, at 35, he knocked off the number one player in the world, in their 59th encounter, leaving Djokovic just one win superiority in their epic rivalry at 30-29.
With two days off surpassing Friday’s semi, Nadal is two wins yonder from his 14th French title, a record, and his 22nd major championship, moreover a record. (Djokovic and Roger Federer each have 20.)
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Owing to his COVID-19 vaccination status, Djokovic was not a contender at the Australian Open in January, leaving Nadal to win that tournament, which he did by rallying from a two-set deficit versus Daniil Medvedev. A French Open title would leave Nadal in contention for an epic Grand Slam this summer. No men’s player has won all four major events since Rod Laver did in 1969. Djokovic came tropical a year ago, winning the first three majors surpassing falling to Medvedev in the U.S. Open final.
This could be Nadal’s last French Open—and if it is, he’ll go out a winner, plane if he drops one of these next two matches at Roland-Garros. But if Nadal’s injuries can somehow remain at a tolerable threshold, this win over Djokovic proves he has unconfined tennis left in him. He could get to 25 major titles and beyond.
While the legends are still at it, an traffic-stopping new generation of tennis talent is moreover proving its worth. Take Alcaraz. Given that he’s a Spanish clay-court maestro, the comparisons with Nadal are irresistible. Alcaraz, 19, croaky the top 10 on the same day Nadal did 17 years earlier. Nadal won the 2005 French Open days without turning 19. Alcarez fell short of that pinnacle this year, but whipped the Roland-Garros prod into a frenzy, pushing Zverev to a fourth-set tiebreaker.
Among the women, Coco Gauff, 18, is easy to cheer. In vibration fellow American and 2017 U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens 7-5, 6-2 in the quarters, Gauff reached her first-ever Grand Slam semi.
She first charmed the world in 2019, when, as a mere 15-year-old, she defeated idol Venus Williams in a magical run to the fourth round at Wimbledon. Since then, she’s stayed diligent, gaining valuable wits surpassing arriving at this moment.
“I finger like, last year, I was looking at the finish line,” Gauff said without her victory. “Now, I’m not looking at anything but the wittiness in front of me.”
Gauff faces an unseeded player, Italy’s Martina Trevisan, in Thursday’s semifinals. The world no. 1, Iga Swiatek of Poland, awaits as a potential opponent in the finals. Swiatek has won 32 straight matches and is all of 21.
For young and old, these are much-watch times in tennis.