Rafael Nadal was given his first real test of this year’s French Open but the defending champion successfully stayed on track for a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title with a straight-sets victory over teenage sensation Jannik Sinner.
The Spaniard, looking to match Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, was stretched like rarely before by the 19-year-old Sinner but he came through to win 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 6-1 in a match which ended at 12.25am in Paris.
“Sinner is a very, very young talent with a lot of power, great shots. For two sets it was tough, especially in the second set I was lucky to be back,” said Nadal. “The conditions were a little bit difficult, he was hitting every ball very hard and with this cold, my speed is not there. It was hard for me to put him out of position.
“Now I have two, well almost one and a half days off to rest and practice.”
Sinner, the first French Open debutant to reach the last eight since Nadal in 2005, confirmed his immense potential but lacked just a bit of composure when it mattered.
He had already beat two top-15 ranked players on his way to a first Grand Slam quarter-final.
The Italian pushed Nadal in the opening set, breaking to lead 6-5 before the Spaniard – chasing a 13th Roland Garros crown – recovered to force the tie-break, which he took.
Sinner, currently ranked 75 in the world, bounced back in the second to race out to a 3-1 lead, however Nadal relied on his experience to clamber his way back and take the set before running away with it in the third.
The result sets up a mouth-watering semi-final matchup between Nadal and Schwartzman.
Nadal has won nine of their 10 previous matches, but Schwartzman won the most recent one, last month on clay in Rome.
“He’s coming with big confidence, no? Two weeks in a row,” Nadal said of Schwartzman. “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.”
It will be Nadal’s 13th semi-final at Roland Garros and 34th at all Grand Slams. He is 24-0 in semi-finals and finals at the French Open, part of a 98-2 mark on the red dirt he has dominated since 2005.