Nadal and Djokovic remain on collision course for French Open quarter-finals

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA</span>
Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA

Rafael Nadal continued to build momentum at the French Open as he moved into the fourth round by easing past Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. With his victory, Nadal has set up a particularly curious second-week encounter against Félix Auger-Aliassime, the ninth seed, who coolly navigated three tight sets to beat Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2), 7-5.

The match-up is notable because Auger-Aliassime has spent the past year working with Nadal’s uncle, Toni, who was the Spaniard’s primary coach from his childhood until 2017, and played a defining role in so much of his success. Toni Nadal remains the director of the Rafa Nadal Academy in Manacor, meaning he is essentially employed by both players.

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He has said that he will sit out the match rather than provide Auger-Aliassime with advice to defeat his nephew.

“If we have to play with Rafa, I will not be on either of the two benches out of respect for both players and because I’m still the director of the Academy, I’m still working for him and I’m Rafael’s uncle,” said Toni Nadal, according to Marca.

“I have a special affection, as is normal, for my nephew. But if he has to lose with someone, let it be with Félix. I don’t stop being Rafael’s uncle, I have been associated with him for many years. Hopefully in the future Félix will be number one in the world. For now, he has to improve.”

Auger-Aliassime’s press conference was naturally dominated by questions about Toni Nadal’s decision to recuse himself from the match, which the Canadian shrugged off by pointing out that Nadal’s career is greater than this one encounter.

“I don’t know how Toni feels,” he said. “Maybe we should ask him, but he hasn’t talked to me about it. But I think also you have to remember, because I know this question is going to come quite a lot, I just want to say that, you know, for me, like, Rafa’s career and what he did with Toni is much bigger than the match tomorrow.

“I think we can all say that regardless of what happens tomorrow, I think we have to see like it’s much bigger than just this. I mean, what he did with his uncle, like this match will not take anything away from both sides really, and I just think we need to see it as bigger picture.

It’s one match, let’s play, but his career and everything is much bigger than this.”

Novak Djokovic executes a perfect slide to return a forehand
Novak Djokovic executes a perfect slide to return a forehand. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP

Nadal and Novak Djokovic remain on a collision course for the French Open quarter-finals as Djokovic also advanced to the fourth round with an uneventful straight-sets victory on Friday.

On Court Philippe Chatrier, just before Nadal finished his match on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Djokovic calmly brushed aside Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 to reach the fourth round as French football legends Arsène Wenger and Zinedine Zidane looked on.

Both Djokovic and Nadal are yet to drop a set in Paris and will see a step up in their challenges as both meet seeds inside the top 15.

Djokovic will face the 15th seed Diego Schwartzman, the 2020 semi-finalist, who dismantled Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 to return to the fourth round for the fourth time in the past five years.

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“He’s one of the quickest players we have on tour, and his best results in his career came on clay, so of course he’s a tough opponent without a doubt. I know him well. We played some really good matches on different surfaces,” said Djokovic.

“So playing against him, you always have to expect another ball coming back.

I’m ready for the physical battle. I haven’t spent too much time on the court. I have been striking the ball really well, so I look forward to that challenge.”

Schwartzman’s press conference, meanwhile, contained more discussion about the Argentinian’s pastel pink Fila outfit than his coming contest with Djokovic.

“I think it’s always important to feel great with the brand you are, you know, going, walking on court,” he said. “So I think they are doing great. My tennis this week, it was great so far. Let’s see if the pink colours are ready for the round of 16 now.”

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