PARIS: Rafa Nadal hammered Dutch 26th seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the French Open third round on Friday to remain on course for a potential mouth-watering showdown against world number one Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
Nadal has 13 Roland Garros titles among his 21 majors — the highest among men — but the Spaniard was denied last year when he went down in the semi-finals to eventual champion Djokovic.
Around the same time on nearby Court Philippe Chatrier, the Serb also put on a prolific display to book his spot in the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene to stay in the hunt for a record-equalling 21st major.
While Djokovic will next meet Argentine 15th seed Diego Schwartzman, Nadal will take on Canadian ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime before their potential clash in the last eight.
Nadal had a break point for 5-0 in the third set, but Van de Zandschulp refused to roll over, winning four of the next five games before Nadal put away his second match point, having saved a break point in between the two.
“You always feel a little bit the nerves to finish the match, so I’m happy to be through in straight sets,” said Nadal. “I think it was my best match of the tournament so far for two-and-a-half sets, so I’m very happy with that.”
World number one Djokovic, who is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros this year over three rounds, fired nine aces and 30 winners past 195th-ranked Bedene.
“I’m always very motivated when I get on the court, with the desire to produce my best level each time. It’s not always possible to do it, but today it was very good,” said Djokovic.
Earlier, Schwartzman ripped a spectacular backhand winner to wrap up a 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 win over Grigor Dimitrov, who racked up a staggering 59 unforced errors.
Amanda Anisimova, the 27th seed and a 2019 semi-finalist, advanced to the last 16 as injury-plagued Karolina Muchova retired down 6-7 (7/9), 6-2, 3-0 after falling and twisting her ankle midway through the second set.
Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez, a US Open finalist last year, battled past Olympic champion Belinda Bencic 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 to reach the last 16 in Paris for the first time and set up a meeting with Anisimova.
Angelique Kerber’s quest of completing a career Grand Slam came to an end after the 21st seed was knocked out, losing 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) to Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
American 18-year-old Coco Gauff, the youngest player in the women’s draw, reached the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 36-year-old Kaia Kanepi, who is the oldest women’s player in Paris. Gauff will next face Belgian 31st seed Elise Mertens.
In Thursday’s late action, 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas survived another Roland Garros rollercoaster to reach the third round, beating world number 134 and qualifier Zdenek Kolar of the Czech Republic.
The Greek star saved four set points in the fourth set tiebreaker to win 6-3, 7-6 (10-8), 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (9-7) in a little over four hours having come back from two sets down to defeat Lorenzo Musetti in the first round.
Italian Jannik Sinner, the 11th seed, recovered from a set down to beat Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 and advance to the third round.
Seventh seed Andrey Rublev also advanced after beating Argentina’s Federico Delbonis 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 but British 29th seed Daniel Evans crashed out in the second round after losing 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 to Sweden’s Mikael Ymer.
On the women’s side, American ninth seed Danielle Collins was knocked out in a 6-4, 6-3 defeat to fellow countrywoman Shelby Rogers and 2018 French Open champion Simona Halep crashed out after losing 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 to the unseeded 19-year-old Qinwen Zheng of China.
Seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka enjoyed a comfortable 6-1, 6-3 win over American Madison Brengle and will face Italian Camila Giorgi in the third round.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022