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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Sunday, May 29, 2022

 
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Rafael Nadal fended off Felix Auger-Aliassime 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3—his third career Roland Garros five-setter—to set up a quarterfinal clash vs. Novak Djokovic.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Two weeks ago Rafael Nadal limped away from Rome in an injury cloud, his hopes for winning a 14th Roland-Garros title in doubt.

This week in Paris, at his most familiar stomping grounds, the 35-year-old is picking up momentum in Paris as he bids to become the oldest champion in tournament history.

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Nadal took out 21-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in 4:21 in a packed Court Philippe-Chatrier, extending his lifetime record at the world’s biggest clay court event to a mind-boggling 109-3.

"The only thing that I can guarantee is that I'm gonna fight until the end," Nadal told the crowd on court after his victory.




Win No.110 could be even more difficult to lock down.

Next up for the legendary King of Clay is his greatest rival Novak Djokovic, who came through with ease on Sunday, dropping just seven games as he routed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 in 2:45.

“Obviously well-anticipated match I think when the draw came out for a lot of people,” Djokovic said of the pair’s 59th meeting (Djokovic leads 30-28, and tenth at Roland-Garros (Nadal leads 7-2). “I'm glad that I didn't spend too much time on the court myself up to quarterfinals, knowing that playing him in Roland Garros is always a physical battle, along with everything else. It happens. It's a huge challenge and probably the biggest one that you can have here in Roland Garros.

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Defending champion Djokvoic was up to the task in 2022 – he defeated Nadal in four sets en route to winning his second title at Roland-Garros.

“I'm ready for it. … I like the way I have been feeling, the way I have been hitting the ball. I will focus on what I need to do. I like my chances.”

History will be at stake when the pair clash on Tuesday. Nadal took the lead in men’s singles Grand Slam titles in February when he won his 21st at the Australian Open, a tournament that Djokovoic was forced to miss when he was banned from the country by Australian immigration, due to his decision not to take the coronavirus vaccination.

Nadal, meanwhile, strutted out to a 20-0 record this season before injuries interrupted. He lost the Indian Wells final with a stress fracture in his rib and needed six weeks to recover. Two weeks after his return to the clay the Spaniard struggled with his left foot in his round of 16 loss to Denis Shapovalov in Rome.

Neither champion has had the ideal season for different reasons, but each will have a chance to take a step closer to glory in Paris next week.

It was nearly over for Nadal on Sunday, but he managed to outclass Auger-Aliassime in the biggest moments down the stretch to book his 16th quarterfinal appearance at Roland-Garros. He has only lost once before in that round, against Djokovic in 2015.

Auger-Aliassime, into the second week in Paris for the first time, was quick out of the gates as he claimed the 57-minute opening set that featured six winners and 12 unforced errors from Nadal.




The Spaniard ticked back and took sets two and three but could not hold off the No.9 seed in the fourth.

In the fifth, however, Nadal summoned some glorious shotmaking – he cracked 15 winners against just four unforced errors behind the full-throated crowd which backed his every move.




He broke for 5-3 in the decider and served out the match to 15, closing affairs with a forehand winner into the open court with Auger-Aliassime stranded at the net.



 

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