PARIS (AP) — Rafael Nadal insists he can’t know for sure whether any match at Roland Garros might be his very last at a place he loves, a place he is loved.
For now, if he keeps winning and keeps performing the way he did during his monumental quarterfinal victory over longtime rival Novak Djokovic, Nadal will have more chances to play.
With a mix of brilliant shot-making and his trademark resilience, Nadal got past the top-seeded defending French Open champion Djokovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) to move a step closer to his 14th championship at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament and what would be a 22nd major trophy overall, adding to records that he already owns.
“To win against Novak, there is only one way — to play at your best from the first point to the last,” Nadal said. “Tonight has been one of those magic nights for me.”
For anyone lucky enough to be there, too, or even anyone watching from afar.
The match began a little past 9 p.m. Tuesday and concluded more than four hours later, after 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Nary a game, a point, a stroke or, indeed, a step came with a hint of insouciance. Both men gave their all. Nothing came easily.
The bracket said this was a quarterfinal, yes, but it felt like a final, from the quality of play to the quality of effort, from the anticipation that preceded it to the atmosphere that enveloped it.
The only missing ingredient: There was no trophy handed to the winner.
Nadal’s 3-0 lead in the second set did him no good; Djokovic ended up taking it.
Djokovic’s 3-0 lead in the fourth did him no good, even though he served for it at 5-3, even standing one point from forcing a fifth twice. Nadal saved those set points and broke there, then ran away with the closing tiebreaker, seizing a 6-1 edge and and never losing focus after his first three match points went awry.
“Always playing against him is an amazing challenge,” Nadal said. "All the history we have together, today was another one.
This showdown was the 59th of their careers, more than any other two men have played each other in the Open era. Nadal narrowed Djokovic’s series lead to 30-29 while improving to 8-2 against his rival at Roland Garros.
Nadal is now 110-3 for his career at the place. Two of those losses came against Djokovic, including in last year’s semifinals.
This year, Nadal made sure Djokovic remains behind him in the Slam count with 20.
Nadal turns 36 on Friday, when he will face third-seeded Alexander Zverev in the semifinals.
When the subject of Nadal's future was brought up during his on-court interview, he smiled.
“See you, by the way, in two days,” Nadal said. “That's the only thing that I can say.”
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Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press