Nadal outmuscles Sinner to surge into French Open quarter-final
Defending champion Rafael Nadal swept past the 18th seed Jannik Sinner 7-5, 6-3, 6-0 on centre court on Monday to reach the quarter-final at the French Open.
Nadal broke the 19-year-old straight away but Sinner reeled him in and broke again to lead 3-2.
Enormous hitting off both wings helped the Italian to sustain the advantage.
After 47 minutes, he served for the opener and the minor accolade of becoming the first man to take a set off Nadal at Roland Garros since Dominic Thiem won the second set in the final in 2019.
But he cracked and a second double fault allowed Nadal to level at 5-5.
The scare appeared to galvanise the Spaniard. He held his own service and then carved open three set points after a deft drop shot.
Sinner saved the first with a bold forehand down the line. But Nadal, showing his legendary retrieval skills, egged him into hitting big. Sinner took the bait and 11 minutes after serving for the set, he had lost it 7-5
As if to punish the effrontery of serving for the set, Nadal broke Sinner twice to lead 4-0. But the errors crept back into his own game and Sinner recovered one of the breaks to trail 4-1 and he held for 4-2 as his big hitting rediscovered its accuracy.
Serving for a 5-2 lead, Nadal revealed uncharacteristic nervousness. A seventh double fault at 30-0 let Sinner back into the game and more big hitting brought a break point.
A service winner staved that off but it was clear that Nadal was no longer cruising to the second set.
More ferocious groundstrokes from Sinner brought up another break point and he picked off a poor drop shot to get back to 4-3.
The second set was alive again. But it died just as rapidly. A third double fault from Sinner made it 0-30. A cute lob gave Nadal three break points. One was saved but a sloppy backhand made it 5-3 to Nadal and a chance to serve for the second set.
The 34-year-old wrapped it up 6-3 to take command.
That gave Sinner had the chance to make history as the first player to beat Nadal from two sets to love down at the French Open.
The challenge did not start well. He dropped his opening service game of the third set. And Nadal broke him again to lead 3-0. A fourth double fault made it 5-0 to Nadal.
A 13th forehand winner racked up a second match point and Nadal claimed the prize after two hours and 17 minutes when Sinner's service return slumped into the net.
"I was lucky to get the break back at 5-4 in the first set," Nadal admitted to the on-court interviewer Fabrice Santoro.
"I played better in the second set but made a few errors that allowed him to come back. I'm happy to get through against a good player who has a great future."
Nadal's next assignment will pit him against the 10th seed Diego Schwartzman who ended the run of the unseeded German Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6, 6-4, 7-5.
"We played in the semi-finals last year," Nadal added. "It's the quarter-finals of probably the best tournament in the world so you can't expect an easy opponent. So let's see how it goes."
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