Nadal stifles Sinner’s charge in 100th Roland-Garros match

No.2 seed sets Schwartzman showdown after ending teenage Italian’s dream run in Paris

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2020, quarter-final©Cedric Lecocq / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Almost every time Rafael Nadal sets foot on Court Philippe-Chatrier he breaks records and breaks an opponent’s resolve.

On Tuesday under the moonlight, the 12-time champion edged closer to the title as a Roland-Garros centurion.

The world No.2 and defending champion featured in his 100th match on the terre battue of Roland-Garros and prevailed 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1 over Italian teenager Jannik Sinner.

“He’s a very, very young talent with great shots. For two sets it was very tough. At the end of the first set I was very lucky. It was very difficult for me to pull him out of position," said Nadal after he booked his 13th semi-final on the clay in Paris.

“In the third set I improved, I was much better being much more aggressive. That’s the only way. I’m very, very happy to be back in the semi-finals of Roland-Garros again. It’s no doubt the most important place for me, the most beautiful place to play.

“Now I have two, I will say one and a half days off to rest, practise a little bit and recover to be ready for the semi-finals.”

His record now stands at 98 wins and just two defeats, 237 hours and eight minutes on the court, just 27 sets lost, 427 of 602 break points saved. The statistics are stupendous over Nadal's Roland-Garros century, but essentially to trouble the Spaniard over five sets is a real predicament.

Sinner stepped up to the lines and gave it his all with relentless striking, serving for the opener at 6-5 and holding a 3-1 advantage in the second set, however Nadals’ champion's instinct clicked in and erased both advantages.

Just two points from surrendering that opening set, the Spaniard lassoed a brace of trademark forehands down the line to force a tie-break. The world No.2 was finding the corners, the teenage protégé was missing by a matter of inches. After 72 bruising minutes, Nadal was a set to the good. 

In the 89 times that Nadal had won the first set on those pristine Parisian courts, the 34-year-old had gone on to to clinch victory 78 times in straight sets. Make that 79.

It’s now up to seed No.12 Diego Schwartzman to try and inflict a rare loss on Nadal in Paris. The Argentine prevailed in a pulsating five-set, five-hour marathon with US Open champion Dominic Thiem earlier on Tuesday.

Nadal’s 34th major semi-final will see a rematch of their Rome quarter-final clash last month, which the Argentine won in straight sets.

“Of course, is a challenge. When you lost to somebody, is because he's playing well. Today he played an amazing match against one of the best players of the world, without a doubt, especially on this surface,” said Nadal, who held a 9-1 record against Schwartzman.

“He's coming with big confidence, no? Two weeks in a row... He's in the final in Rome, he's in the semi-finals here. He beat me there. It's a plus of confidence for him, I know that. 

“I'm going to... play aggressive, try to do something a little bit different than what I did in Rome, of course. Hope to be ready to play my best. That's what I need. That's what I am looking for. I going to give my best until the end.”

Sinner has been mightily impressive on debut this fortnight, dismantling 11th seed David Goffin in the first round, before outmanoeuvring US Open finalist Alexander Zverev. His aggressive approach, pressing from within the baseline, caused Nadal problems, but the storyline remained on a similar script.

Jannik Sinner© Philippe Montigny / FFT

Plenty of pundits are now expecting the world No.75 to storm up the rankings into the top 10 for the foreseeable future.

“I'm a person who looks not in the future and not in the past, always in the present. It's nice to hear. At the end you have to show everything. I didn't win anything until now. OK, NextGen (Finals), it's one tournament. At the end I didn't won anything,” reflected the 19-year-old. 

“It's just head down and trying to improve, trying to play hours after hours on court, which I need to do. I have a great team behind me. We will see in 12 months where I am.”