Nadal crushes Nishikori, into semis

Defending champ Nadal sets up Federer clash after overwhelming Nishikori in quarters.

Rafael Nadal©Julien Crosnier / FFT
 - Ian Chadband

Meet the 33-year-old Rafael Nadal. Same as the 32-year-old Rafael Nadal - brilliant, bullyingly brutal and bruising on the terre battue.

If Kei Nishikori harboured the faintest hope the day after the Spaniard’s celebrations on Monday that, somehow, Rafa might emerge a fraction creakier after blowing out 33 candles on his cake, he was, naturally, soon disabused of such a preposterous notion. Age shall not weary him, it seems.

If anything, you might have been persuaded Nadal had been given a new shiny, megaton steamroller for his birthday, so ruthlessly did he flatten the hopes of his serial Japanese victim.

The champ took just under 10 minutes short of two hours to win 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 - in terms of games conceded, his most one-sided win of the entire fortnight - and set up the match that all of Roland-Garros has been yearning to see once more, a semi-final against Roger Federer.

The only thing, it seemed, that could stop him here was an act of God - and maybe it was Nadal’s glowering look of frustration when play was suspended with him just two games away from victory that made the weather deities think they better not keep him too angry for too long.

Seventy minutes later, they were back on Court Philippe-Chatrier; and 10 minutes later it was all over. One would assume that Federer will offer rather more resistance than Nishikori who, weary from three straight days of tennis and two draining five-setters, tried manfully but could not disguise the body language that told of a man who perhaps did not believe himself capable of toppling the colossus on clay.

Yet even Federer might also be quickly reminded on Friday of those previous five meetings between them at Roland-Garros. It’s Rafa 5, Federer 0, every encounter filled with just a little hope for the Swiss yet every one ending with him feeling ‘no mas…’ Why should it be different this time?

Rafael Nadal - Roland-Garros 2019 - quart de finale ©Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Nishikori knows that feeling. The feeling of being Nadal’s punch bag on Chatrier. The new arena can’t conceal all the old demons. How can you remind yourself that you are one of the best players in the world when the man across the net is so utterly relentless that he never lets you breathe?

“He hit very heavy, and he was serving well,” Nishikori sighed. “He made me play every point. Even to get one game, it feel like very long to get just one game. He’s playing great tennis this week."

Even Nadal, never one to blow his own trumpet, wasn’t hiding this fact. “The way I have been playing has been, being honest, very positive. I have been playing well, very solid. Winning good matches against tough opponents like today. I am happy with that,” said the Spaniard, after reaching a record-extending 12th Roland-Garros semi-final.

Federer next

He tried his best to play down the idea of Federer being his opponent but knew that could never really wash. “Having Roger in front in the semi-finals is an extra thing,” he said. “It’s always a big match against him. The level of tennis that you need to play always is the highest. And I am playing well, but I need to play very well against him. So I hope to be ready to make that happen.

"We shared the most important moments of our careers together on court. So it’s another episode of this, and I’m happy for that and excited, no? It will be a special moment.”

It sure will. Someone threw the fact at him that he has lost his last five meetings with Federer and also that he has won 13 of their 15 matches on clay. Which was more significant? “We'll see that on Friday,” Nadal said. “For the time being, I can't tell you anything. Unfortunately, I can't give you any prediction.”

Nadal knows what to expect, though. “I really expect that he gonna play aggressive, changing rhythms, going to the net. He's playing well and he has the tennis to make that happen," he said.

“I have to be solid. I have to hit the ball strong enough to not allow him to do the things from good positions. I need to let him play from difficult positions, so from there he gonna have less chances to go to the net or to play his aggressive game.

“If I am able to play good tennis and play well with my forehand and backhand, I hope to put him in trouble. If not, I will be in trouble.”

That response came with a smile, a smile that suggested like his performance on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect to be dethroned in his Philippe-Chatrier kingdom.