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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday October 6, 2020

Rafael Nadal

Jannik Sinner pushed Rafael Nadal through two sets, but the king of clay finished in style to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros.

Photo Source: RG20

When 19-year-old Jannik Sinner went up a break on 12-time Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal in the opening set, the tennis world fixed its collective gaze on the young Italian, who is the first male player to reach the quarterfinals on his Paris debut since the King of Clay himself.

Tennis Express

Would he take a set? Could we be witnessing the beginning of one of the biggest upsets in tennis history?

The answers came quickly. No and No. But as they came we learned that Sinner is not just another young talent to be hog-tied and dumped out of a Roland Garros draw unglamorously. He’s actually a force on the rise and he proved as much by how well he competed with Nadal over the course of the Spaniard’s 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1 victory on Tuesday night at Roland Garros.

The kid is for real, and could soon be a force on the ATP Tour.

As for Nadal, he’s still the boss of Court Philippe Chatrier, no matter the conditions or the status of the roof (open, closed, in existence, not in existence).

Nadal improves to a gaudy 98-2 lifetime at his favorite tournament, and reaches the semifinals for the 13th time. Nadal is now two steps from claiming a record-tying 20th major title, and will face Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in the semifinals.

Schwartzman, who owns a 1-9 lifetime record against Nadal but did defeat the Spaniard for the first time in Rome last month, defeated Dominic Thiem in five sets earlier on Tuesday on Court Philippe Chatrier.

"He's coming with big confidence, no? Two weeks in a row," Nadal said. "He's in the final in Rome, he's in the semifinals here. He beat me there. It's a plus of confidence for him. I know that. I'm going to try to go on court, play my best, try to play my game, play aggressive, try to do something a little bit different than what I did in Rome, of course. Hope to be ready to play my best. That's what I need. That's what I am looking for. I going to give my best until the end."

After facing Sinner’s best in the early going, Nadal went about the business of tearing down the young Italian’s defenses, using his forehand down the line as a big weapon in the first-set tiebreaker and then his legendary intensity in the second set after Sinner had the gall to go ahead by a break at 3-1.

"I don't watch about records," Sinner told reporters after the match. "I know who is on the other side. I have a lot of respect for him. At the end you want to win. You go on court to play your tennis with your personality. You go on court trying to play your tennis, trying to win obviously. Yeah, but you have to have, for every player, the right respect on court and especially off court as well. I think he's a great example for everyone."

It was remarkable to see the Italian challenge Nadal for a pair of sets. Poised and persistent, he moved well and struck the ball with authority, often putting Nadal on the back foot and keeping him there. Also remarkable was the steady hum of Nadal’s desire to protect the house that he has called his own since the minute he stepped foot in Paris as a pro.

If we celebrate Sinner’s spectacular debut, and we should, we should also remember that it was Nadal who went on to win the tournament in his debut in 2005, as a 19-year-old. There are exceptional young talents, likely destined for greatness, and then there is Nadal—he of the otherworldly run of success on the terre battue, and the indomitable will to keep returning to the scene of his first major triumph to recreate the magic, again and again and again.

He has added another layer to his legacy tonight. With each win he moves closer to becoming the first man to win 100 matches at Roland Garros, and further cements his place in the record books as the best clay-courter of all-time.


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