Novak weathers Italian storm | Sports

PARIS, France (AFP) — Novak Djokovic survived a five-set scare while Rafael Nadal shone in the Paris sun as the two Grand Slam heavyweights reached the French Open quarterfinals for the 15th time, stalling the advance of tennis’ next generation.

World No. 1 Djokovic stayed on course to become the first man in over 50 years to win all four Slams twice but only after fighting back from two sets down to see off 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti.

Nadal, the 13-time champion and bidding for a record 21st major, claimed his 104th win in Paris by beating another Italian 19-year-old, Jannik Sinner in straight sets.

Meanwhile, in the women’s draw, Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova and Maria Sakkari all reached the quarterfinals of a Slam for the first time while defending champion Iga Swiatek cruised through.

Musetti, ranked 76 and making his Grand Slam debut, was poised to condemn Djokovic to his earliest exit in Paris since 2009 when he captured the first two sets, 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/2).

But Djokovic leveled by taking the next two, 6-1, 6-0 before Musetti, who had needed a medical time-out, retired at 4-0 down in the decider suffering from cramps and a back injury.

“I like to play young guys in the best of five because even at two sets down, I feel I still have my chances,” said 18-time major winner Djokovic.

“I feel physically fit, I have won most of my five-setters and that experience helps.”

It was the fifth time in his Grand Slam career that 34-year-old Djokovic has come back from to sets down.

Djokovic, the 2016 champion and chasing a 19th major, reeled off 53 of the last 61 points as he made a quarterfinal at the majors for the 49th time.

“I was not able anymore to win a point, and so I decided to retire,” Musetti said.

“But it was a fantastic experience for me. I was playing my best tennis.”

Third seed Nadal downed 18th-seeded Sinner 7-5, 6-3, 6-0 and goes on to face Diego Schwartzman of Argentina who he defeated in the semifinals in 2020.

Nadal has now won 104 matches at Roland Garros against just two defeats since his 2005 debut while Monday’s victory extended his run of consecutive sets won in Paris to 35.

The 35-year-old Spanish world No. 3 is seeded to face Djokovic in the semifinals.

“I started well but was a little too defensive. I gave him the chance to come inside the court and play his best shots. That was a mistake,” said Nadal after reaching a 44th Slam last-eight.

“I broke back at 5-4 in the first set and the match changed after that. I played at a great level.”

Nadal hit 31 winners while the Italian claimed just 10 points in the third set.

Schwartzman, the 10th seed, reached his third French Open quarterfinal with a 7-6 (11/9), 6-4, 7-5 win over Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.

Gauff swept to an impressive 53-minute, 6-3, 6-1 win over Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.

At just 17, she is the youngest woman to reach the last eight of a Slam since Nicole Vaidisova at the 2016 French Open.

In a composed performance on Court Philippe Chatrier, the American teenager, seeded 24, broke her Tunisian opponent three times without facing a break point.

“I am super happy to reach my first Grand Slam quarterfinal. I played really well,” Gauff said.

Gauff, who famously raced to the Wimbledon fourth round in 2019 as a 15-year-old qualifier, faces Krejcikova for a place in the semifinals.


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