Rafa deals Sinner another blow

 - Simon Cambers

Thirteen-time champion yet to concede a set as Italian teenager falls in third straight showdown

Rafael Nadal / Huitièmes de finale Roland-Garros 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Rafael Nadal has been teaching players a lesson at Roland-Garros for more than a decade and a half and on Monday, it was the turn of Jannik Sinner to experience a familiar feeling; déjà vu.

For the second year in a row, the Italian took the attack to Nadal and led 5-3 only for the Spaniard to hit back, take the set, add the second and rip through the third to claim a place in the quarter-finals.

It was Nadal's third win from as many encounters with the Italian - all having come on clay.

“He is a very good player and he has a big future,” Nadal said, always honest, always to the point. “I am very happy with the win.”

Sinner had been the man who pushed Nadal hardest in 2020, holding a set point in the opening set in their quarter-final battle only to go down in straight sets.

In warm, sunny conditions on Monday, Nadal showed Sinner that he still had a long way to go if he was to start really matching the Spaniard on his favourite surface and his favourite court.

Nadal led 2-0 but let Sinner back in early on and the 19-year-old - thumping groundstrokes to both corners - took a 5-3 lead. It was at that moment, though, that Nadal cut out the mistakes, became the aggressor again and won four straight games to clinch the set.

“I think I started the first two games playing great,” Nadal said.

“Then I had a bad game with 2-0 and with the wind helping, so that was a big mistake. Then I started to play too much against his backhand and too far from the baseline, so I gave him the chance to be inside the court and to have the control of the point. From that position he's dangerous. I was a little bit farther every time, no, from the baseline.

“Then I was able to have the break back in the 5-4 with the wind helping. I knew that was a chance. So it was important to hold my serve with the 5-3 against the wind. Then with the 5-4, you know that you can have your chances. That's what happened. I won that game. I had the break. Then I play solid game with my serve.

“Then from that moment to 7-5, 4-0 I think I played very good level of tennis. Then again, couple of mistakes and he played well, honestly. 4-3 until that moment to the end of the match I think I played great.”

Sinner was a well-beaten man by the time Nadal wrapped things up. It was yet another illustration of how difficult it is to beat the Spaniard at Roland-Garros, something only two men – Robin Soderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015 – have managed to do.

Rafael Nadal, Jannik Sinner, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The 35-year-old is into the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam event for the 44th time and with four matches down, and no sets lost, he is three wins from a 14th Roland-Garros title and a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Nadal celebrated his birthday last week and was asked about what gets better with age and what gets more difficult.

“What's more difficult is to keep celebrating birthdays here in Roland Garros,” he said. “That's the most difficult part because every time is one more year. So it’s going to arrive one day that we are not going to celebrate here.

“For the rest of the things, still passionate about what I am doing, happy to be where I am, of course. I feel lucky to be where I am, too, and I want to keep enjoying, no? Give myself chances to keep competing well.”

On this evidence, yet again, he’s the man to beat and everyone knows it.