After a hotly-anticipated quarter-final clash against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal prevailed in four sets, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6.
Last year en route to the title, Djokovic had defeated Nadal in the semi-finals before facing Stefanos Tsitsipas in a tight five-set race. This was only the third time Nadal had been beaten at Roland Garros; the first losing to Robin Söderling in 2009, then Djokovic in 2015.
But on Tuesday night, Nadal exhibited a whirlwind display of power and determination in front of a boisterous Parisian crowd.
Nadal vs Djokovic, 2022 French Open, Quarter Finals
Nadal’s match reminded me strongly of Roger Federer’s encounters with the Spaniard at the 2017 Indian Wells and Miami Masters.
Federer stood on the baseline throughout the Sunshine Double, taking the ball exceptionally early and moving his opponent from corner to corner. Here, Nadal did just that, using the entire width of the court to pull Djokovic out of position.
In a bizarre sight, even on his service games, Djokovic kept being pulled and pushed left and right, and further behind the baseline.
His legendary return game could not afford him a foothold on rallies, which opened a chance for the Nadal forehand to attack into vulnerable space.
Like Federer at Indian Wells and Miami, Nadal kept points generally short, going for winners soon after the serve. He varied his tactics, shortening the angle on his backhand, deploying drop-shots and coming forward to volley.
This seemed to confuse and discombobulate Djokovic, who struggled to gain momentum from the baseline.
Djokovic’s backhand appeared to lack its previous conviction, a few finding their way into the net or wide of the side-line when he attempted to go for winners. Indeed, Djokovic made 53 unforced errors to Nadal’s 43 and trailed with 48 winners to his opponent’s 57.
Nadal comfortably won the first set 6-2. But Djokovic was able to stage a small comeback, winning 4-6 in the second.
From then on, Nadal, perhaps with memories of last year, summoned a boost of energy. He was nimbler around the court and hit his groundstrokes and smashes with pin-point precision near the lines.
Djokovic kept trying to take the fight to Nadal but hit towards his opponent’s forehand, losing any advantage.
Nadal regained the lead in the third set for 6-2, but the fourth set was quite different. Djokovic made an early break for a 0-2 start at the beginning of the set. Nadal regained some ground and, at 3-5, prevented Djokovic from winning two set points.
In a long game on Djokovic’s advantage, the Serb had stretched out Nadal to his forehand side and hit an approach shot. Nadal gingerly moved across the baseline as Djokovic rushed towards the net and hit a perfect passing shot down the line.
This time, Nadal used his potent forehand for an inside-out forehand winner to break Djokovic for 4-5. Eventually, at 6-all, the pair reached a tiebreak, with Nadal leading 6-1. Djokovic gallantly saved three match points, the last by perfectly aiming a forehand winner into Nadal’s ad-side.
Wary of Djokovic’s building momentum, and in a microcosm of his strategy, Nadal pulled Djokovic out-wide with his backhand before coming forward and hitting a winner down the line. Nadal will play his semi-final match against Alexander Zverev on Friday.
Cilic Wins Epic Over Rublev
Marin Cilic overcame Andrey Rublev on Wednesday, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, in an extended match that lasted 4 hours and 10 minutes. Cilic used his impressive height at 6’6 to fire down 33 aces to Rublev’s 15.
Rublev held his own for some of the rallies, even on return games. He would take a deep position behind the line and send the ball awkwardly to Cilic’s feet, laden with topspin.
After a relatively weak response, Rublev would step forward and attempt to dominate with his powerful forehand, targeting Cilic’s ad-side.
Despite his height, Cilic showed remarkable movement in the forecourt, darting towards the net to hit a volley, which often ended up as a smash into open space.
After such a difficult return, Rublev was vulnerable to Cilic’s net play, unable to cover the exposed ground.
Mentally, Cilic was strong, hitting his forehand with a clean stroke, wrapping his arm around his shoulder and neck. Ubiquitous fist-pumps to his box, and a steely glint in his eye, betrayed a determination and fire.
As the match wore on, Rublev seemed slightly more fatigued, perhaps despondent at the number of aces Cilic was sending down the “T”, freezing him out of the point.
Rublev gained some confidence after closing out the fourth set, but during the super-tiebreak at 6-all in the fifth, Cilic ran away with the scoreline, reaching 10-2.
Cilic vs Rublev, 2022 French Open, Quarter Finals
How far could Zverev hamper Nadal’s chances of reaching the final? And will Cilic reach his first major final since the 2018 Australian Open against Federer? Leave your comments below.