Rafael Nadal stayed on track for a record-extending 22nd men’s singles Grand Slam title after knocking out World No1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in an epic quarter-final. The Spaniard, however, insisted he still has work to do to win a 14th French Open.
Nadal took his head-to-head against defending champion Djokovic at Roland Garros to 8-2 with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) win which finished after 1:00 am local time. The match ended in cool conditions under the Court Philippe Chatrier lights, with many fans covering themselves in blankets as the match, in theory, stretched from May into June.
“In the end it has been a very emotional night for me,” said Nadal who will face third seed Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals on Friday. “I’m still playing for nights like today. But it’s just a quarter-finals match? So I didn’t win anything. I just give myself a chance to be back on court in two days. Playing another semi-finals here in Roland Garros means a lot to me.”
The Spaniard stated that it was “too late” to be playing after their quarter-final that ended in the early hours of Wednesday.
“It is too late, without a doubt,” said Nadal who had asked not to play in the night session.
“I can’t complain because we have two days off now, but if you only have one day off, or like Zverev had in Madrid, when he had to play the final the next day, then it’s a big issue.
“I understand the other part of the business, without a doubt, that television pays a lot of money...
“We need to find a balance.”
Nadal, who won the Australian Open earlier this year, has struggled in recent weeks with a chronic foot injury. He said before his match with Djokovic that he treats each match as potentially his last on the Paris clay.
“I don’t know what can happen,” he admitted. “As I said before, I’m gonna be playing this tournament because we are doing the things to be ready to play this tournament, but I don’t know what’s gonna happen after here.”
“I have what I have there in the foot, so if we are not able to find an improvement or a small solution on that, then it’s becoming super difficult for me. So that’s it. I am just enjoying every day that I have the chance to be here, and without thinking much about what can happen in the future.”
Nadal will move two clear of Djokovic and Roger Federer on the all-time list of most men’s major titles if he lifts the trophy again on Sunday but he played down the importance of the battle between the ‘Big Three’.
“From my perspective it doesn’t matter that much. We achieved our dreams. We make history in this sport because we did things that didn’t happen before.”
Meanwhile, Djokovic hailed Rafael Nadal as a “great champion” after losing the epic late-night French Open quarter-final, but added he was “not surprised” by his rival’s recovery from a debilitating injury.
“He was the better player in the important moments,” said Djokovic.
“He showed why he’s a great champion. Staying there mentally tough and finishing the match the way he did. Congrats to him and his team. No doubt he deserved it.”
The chronic foot injury, which has plagued Nadal throughout his career, resurfaced in Rome last month and caused Nadal to hint before the match that a defeat to Djokovic could signal the end of his Roland Garros career.
“I didn’t see any problems,” said Djokovic when asked if he was surprised about Nadal’s physical levels.
“It’s not the first time that he is able to – a few days after he’s injured and barely walking – to come out 100% physically fit. He’s done it many times in his career, so I’m not surprised.”
(With inputs from AFP)