At the insistence of Félix Auger Aliassime, because it is a challenge in its own right, Rafael Nadal responds with a show of faith – the one he has to not give up the run and return the ball with a definitive cut, and from there to Pause– and instinct, a lot of instinct; that of hitting when necessary and where there is the most damage to finally get rid of the Canadian (3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6 and 6-3) and avoid a 4-hour trap 20m. This is how the eighths are unlocked, with a good beat in the body; This is how the signing happens and, at the same time, the confirmation of what was suspected after the draw: he and Novak Djokovic will meet again. This time it’s soon, Tuesday in theaters.
Both will meet at the Philippe Chatrier after the Serb’s victory last year, which knocked out the Spaniard in the semi-finals. It is the last precedent of a list without equal in tennis, since there is no rivalry so vaunted nor so fierce. In total, there are 58 crosses, in which Djokovic (35) commands with a narrow margin: 30-28. However, on clay, the one who dominates is Nadal (19-8), who also clearly has the initiative on Parisian territory (7-2). In Grand Slam, the record also plays in his favor: 10-7. The classic returns, but first, a good ride on the roller coaster.
Infected by day, weighed down, very humid and greyish this Sunday in Paris, the Spaniard made a false start. Nadal was not, towing the right of the Canadian, without feeling the conduct and slow in maneuvers, as if he had suddenly taken a few steps back and lost several gears; a lot of short ball in the middle of the field, little depth in the shots and erratic in the service. In short, too much ground in favor of Aliassime, a young man with a good projection – ninth in the world at 21, semi-finalist last year at the US Open – and who has recently made a significant leap on the big scenes. .
Good blame for that lies with the man who watched from neutral ground, neither from one bench nor the other. In the end, Toni Nadal, uncle and mentor of the great champion, decided to watch the match from the presidential box, located between the president of the French Federation (FFT), Gilles Moretton, and the former Iranian player Mansour Bahrami. The technician, who has been advising Aliassime for just over a year, had sat on the box of his nephew in the first three rounds and, logically, on his player’s bench; this time, however, he preferred the intermediate solution to avoid any contradiction.
From this equidistant position, he saw that Nadal (35) had not finished fueling, while his boy reigned over the rally and put the first set on the track with two precise claws, without doubts or tremors, the only way possible to overcome the stage fright that makes a crossing with the Balearic Islands at La Chatrier. There, in front of him, everything becomes very long, or rather eternal. Exasperating. But Aliassime was on the right track. The engagement was formal. The Canadian was in charge and his rival was covered in sand when he corrected his step, still corseted, his left arm still in the sleep phase. It was the eleventh time the Spaniard had lost the first set in Paris (he lost twice in this circumstance) and there was only room for one round.
It wasn’t drastic, but gradual, simmering. And smart. In the end, with a lot of tension, yes. Faced with the perilous situation, in the absence of dynamite in the shots, Nadal opted for compensation. Instead of searching bare-chested, the deviation balanced out; he solidified the serve, reduced the risk by a point and hardened it, putting Aliassime under constant tension in the exchanges. He signed 11 fewer faults in the second round (15 in the first) and the Canadian lowered his performance. The momentum continued in the increasingly hierarchical and imposing third Spanish. He got serious: not once did he open the door and up to eight choices of Pause He searched. A double hit was enough to unbalance and seemingly channel a duel that then went awry again. It was a marathon afternoon of rodeos.
Heads and tails, from 2006 to 2015
Aliassime slammed into the fourth, but was met with a scathing response. You already know: the art of redoing. It’s tennis, it’s Roland Garros. And that’s how Nadal is, with the knife between his teeth when the scene only admitted this step forward; Otherwise, surely, it would have meant perdition. Completed the shoot and catch and run phase, setting up to face the final ramps of the tournament, he now heads into a very demanding showdown with Djokovic, who will land with less wear and with the machines ready, given what we have seen these days: 8h 13m invested in the first four rounds, by 10h 43m on the other side of the net.
Tuesday will be the third meeting between Nadal and Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the great French. They coincided on this scale in 2006 and the Spaniards won, but they met again in 2015 and the winner was the Serb.
In any case, the closest reference corresponds to last year. That of Belgrade returned and later will be proclaimed champion at Wimbledon, thus equaling the 20 greats that Manacor and the Swiss Roger Federer had until then; however, at the start of this season, there was a new twist. Arrested and deported, Nole saw how Nadal triumphed in Australia and placed himself at the forefront of the great historic race to be the most successful player. Now the story summons another classic among the classics.