RAFAEL Nadal maintained his grip on the French Open by reaching another men’s singles final – where he will face top seed, Novak Djokovic, on Sunday.
Spanish second seed Nadal is going for a record-extending 13th title and won 6-3 6-3 7-6 (7-0) against Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in his semi-final.
Nadal, 34, has only lost twice on the Roland Garros clay in his career.
Djokovic is one of the men to beat him and set up another chance by overcoming Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 33-year-old Serb showed his resilience to win 6-3 6-2 5-7 4-6 6-1 against 22-year-old Tsitsipas, who was aiming to reach his first Grand Slam final.
Now Djokovic will meet Nadal for the 56th time in their careers – no two men have played each other more – and will contest their ninth Grand Slam final against each other.
If Nadal lifts the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy yet again, it will see him equal Swiss rival Roger Federer’s all-time leading record of 20 men’s Grand Slam titles.
Djokovic, meanwhile, knows a victory will move him to 18 major titles – within one more of Nadal and two adrift of 39-year-old Federer.
Nadal provides a sense of familiarity at an unfamiliar French Open
Everything is unfamiliar about this French Open: the tournament taking place in cooler weather after being moved because of the coronavirus pandemic, a new roof over Court Philippe Chatrier, floodlit matches going long into the night and a sparse, restricted crowd of up to 1,000 fans.
Nadal working his way through the draw into the final without too many bumps is one of the few constants.
Heading into the tournament, Nadal said a lack of usual preparation for his favourite Grand Slam, the autumnal conditions in Paris and a heavier new ball provided him with the “toughest test” which he had ever faced at Roland Garros.
Aside from a tricky start against Italian teenager Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals, it has actually been smooth progress for the Spaniard, who has yet to drop a set over the fortnight.
Schwartzman was the first seed which Nadal had faced in the tournament and, despite dropping serve in a tentative start and then twice more in a nervy finish, never looked in danger of losing in the Roland Garros last four for the first time.
Between those moments where he was troubled, Nadal started to find greater rhythm and depth with his groundstrokes, with his feared forehand looking particularly potent.
That shot came to his rescue when he needed it most in a scrap of a third set, landing three winners from that side to fight back from 40-15 down, overcoming four deuces, and hold for a 6-5 lead.
Nadal went from looking slightly hesitant to supremely confident as a result, deflating Schwartzman as the tie-break – and the match – quickly slipped out of his grasp.
“It is always very difficult against Diego until the end,” said Nadal.
“I am happy with the way I played, I think I have been improving and it was a very positive match for me.
“I needed to be a little bit more aggressive in the third set when I had the score in my favour.
“I lost couple of opportunities there to close the match before and to not suffer like I suffered at the end.”
There will be concerns for the Spaniard, however. Loose volleys and a barrage of unforced errors – during a spell in the third set where the players exchanged four successive breaks – showed some vulnerability.
A truer test of the 19-time major champion’s real level will come on Sunday when Djokovic stands on the opposite side of the net.
“The only thing I know is to play against Novak, I need to play my best,” said Nadal.
“Without playing my best tennis, the situation is very difficult.
“I know I have to make a step forward. I think I did one today. But for Sunday it is not enough. I need to make another one.”
– Oct. 10, 2020 @ 09:55 GMT /