Home Sports French Open: Novak Djokovic & Rafael Nadal into last 16 at Roland Garros

French Open: Novak Djokovic & Rafael Nadal into last 16 at Roland Garros

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Defending champion Novak Djokovic produced another outstanding display as he reached the French Open fourth round without dropping a set all week.

Serbia’s Djokovic, 34, won 6-3 6-3 6-2 – saving one break point in the third set – against Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene.

The top seed remains on course for a potential quarter-final meeting with Spain’s 13-time champion Rafael Nadal.

Nadal, 35, also moved into the last 16 on Friday with a 6-3 6-2 6-4 win over Dutch opponent Botic van de Zandschulp.

Nadal, who was beaten by Djokovic in a gripping semi-final last year, will face Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in Paris on Sunday.

An intriguing element to that match is that Toni Nadal – Rafael’s uncle, who coached him to 16 of his 21 major titles – is part of ninth seed Auger-Aliassime’s team.
Nadal is seeded fifth in Paris after missing two months of the season with a rib injury, which he picked up at Indian Wells shortly after winning a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

The chronic foot problem which he thought would end his career last year also flared up at the recent Italian Open.

But so far at Roland Garros he has not been overly troubled by either an opponent or his body.

Nadal secured his victory over 26th seed Van de Zandschulp when he saw off a break point before serving out the win to set up the meeting with Auger-Aliassime.

Ninth seed Auger-Aliassime, 21, earned his spot in the last 16 with a 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-2) 7-5 win over Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic.

When Toni Nadal linked up with Auger-Aliassime, he said he would not be able to sit in his new player’s box in any match against his nephew Rafael.

Nadal revealed he spoke with his uncle shortly after beating Van de Zandschulp and that any split loyalties will be “zero problem”.

“He’s my uncle. I don’t think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt, but he’s a professional and he’s with another player,” Nadal said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, if he’s going to stay in the box or not, but I don’t care. I have zero problem with that. So it’s not a story at all for me. I know the feelings that we have between each other.

“I know he wants the best for me.”

Auger-Aliassime said: “I think Toni will watch from a neutral place and enjoy the match.

“It was black and white from the first time we started working together, we knew it was a possibility that eventually I would play Rafa when I’m working with Toni.”
Standing between Djokovic and the possibility of a 59th career meeting with Nadal is Argentine 15th seed Diego Schwartzman, his last-16 opponent.

After a disrupted start to 2022, Djokovic is starting to look at his best and will face his biggest test so far this year at Roland Garros against 2020 semi-finalist Schwartzman, who beat 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 6-1 6-2.

Djokovic was not allowed to play at the Australian Open, or at tournaments in the United States, because he was not vaccinated against Covid-19.

That meant he had only one tournament before the European clay-court swing and, after an understandably rusty start in Monte Carlo, reached the Madrid Open semi-finals before winning the Italian Open.

Victory in Rome reinstated him as the favourite to win on the Paris clay and against Bedene he showed why with a superb performance which he made look routine.

Pressure was instantly put on the Slovenian’s serve as Djokovic aimed to impose himself early.

Bedene, who represented Great Britain between 2015 and 2018 before switching allegiance back to the country of his birth, saved five break points across his first two service games before a weak backhand into the net finally handed over the advantage.

Djokovic served impeccably on his way to winning the first two sets, allowing Bedene to claim just five receiving points.

The sky-high level of dominance slightly dropped at the start of the third, leaving Djokovic needing to fight off a break point in the opening game.

Once he managed that, Djokovic broke Bedene’s serve again for a 3-1 lead and sealed victory with another break on his second match point.

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was among a number of football figures who were at Roland Garros on Friday, the day before Paris hosts the Champions League final, with 1998 World Cup winner and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane watching Nadal.

Djokovic said: “It’s an honour to have these legends of the football world coming to watch myself. And most of the tennis players, we are fans of football.

“I saw Arsene at the beginning of the match. It positively affected me. I had even more motivation to perform well.”

Elsewhere, 19-year-old Spanish sixth seed Carlos Alcaraz beat American 27th seed Sebastian Korda 6-4 6-4 6-2 in the night session on Court Philippe Chatrier.

There was more Spanish joy as qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles knocked out American 23rd seed John Isner in five sets.

Zapata Miralles, 25, served for the match at 5-3 in the fourth set and although Isner fought back to take it to a decider, the world number 131 was able to reset and secure the victory 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-3.

He will now play German third seed Alexander Zverev, who saw off Brandon Nakashima 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 7-6 (7-5).
(BBC)

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