PARIS: Rafael Nadal set up a blockbuster French Open quarter-final against world number one Novak Djokovic on Sunday when he defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime in a five-set fourth round epic and pledged to “fight until the end”.
Nadal, the 13-time champion at Roland Garros and holder of a record 21 Grand Slam titles, triumphed over the Canadian 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in a match which lasted four hours and 21 minutes.
It was only the third time in his 17-year, 111-match career in Paris that Nadal had been stretched to five sets.
Nadal and Djokovic will meet for the 10th time at Roland Garros and 59th overall in a rivalry stretching back to 2006.
“We know each other well, we have a lot of history. The only thing I can say is that I will be focused, try my best and fight until the end,” said Nadal of renewing his rivalry with the defending champion on Tuesday.
Djokovic has been responsible for two of Nadal’s three defeats in Paris – in the quarter-finals in 2015 and last year’s semi-final.
Nadal hailed Auger-Aliassime, who has been working with his uncle and former coach Toni since April last year.
“Felix is a great player, one of the best in the world. He’s very young with a lot of power and great mobility,” said the 35-year-old Spaniard who has made the last-eight for the 16th time.
Ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime raced into a 3-1 lead in the first set on Sunday and battled from three break points down to edge 4-1 ahead.
Nadal retrieved one of the breaks in the seventh game but the 21-year-old Canadian held his nerve to pocket the opener.
Two loose forehands at 3-5 in the second set opened the door for 35-year-old Nadal while the third set swung the Spaniard’s way in the third game when three rapid, defensive scrambles forced an error from his opponent.
Auger-Aliassime then rallied to level the tie.
In a tense finale, Nadal converted only the sixth of the 22 break points he had carved out to lead 5-3 and held his nerve to claim his 109th victory at Roland Garros.
Djokovic also reached the quarter-finals for the 16th time when he eased to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 victory against 15th seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.
“It’s a huge challenge and probably the biggest one that you can have here in Roland Garros. I’m ready for it,” said Djokovic of facing his old rival.
Djokovic is still to drop a set at Roland Garros after cruising through the first week.
He has also won 22 sets in a row, stretching back to his Italian Open title triumph in Rome earlier this month
Alexander Zverev reached the quarter-finals for the fourth time by ending Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles’ run.
Zverev’s quality in the big moments proved enough in a 7-6 (13/11), 7-5, 6-3 victory.
The 25-year-old German will face either Karen Khachanov or teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz in the last eight.
Alcaraz, 19, has won 20 of 21 matches on clay this season but needed to save a match point to beat Spanish compatriot Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round.
In the wide open women’s event, which saw nine of the top 10 seeds fall before the second week, American teenager Coco Gauff set up a quarter-final duel with compatriot Sloane Stephens.
Gauff, 18, reached the last-eight for the second successive year with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Belgium’s Elise Mertens while 2018 runner-up Stephens defeated 23rd-seeded Jil Teichmann of Switzerland 6-2, 6-0.
“Americans in Paris… I think it’ll be a great match and I’m looking forward to it,” said Stephens who is currently 64th in the WTA rankings.
Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez reached the quarter-finals for the first time.
Fernandez, seeded 17th, and who was US Open runner-up last year, fired an impressive 40 winners past 2019 semi-finalist Amanda Anisimova to secure a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win.
“It was a very complicated match. Amanda is a very good player but I was happy to win in front of you,” said the 2019 junior champion.
She next faces Martina Trevisan, the world number 59 from Italy who booked her place in the quarter-finals for the second time in three years, edging out Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus 7-6 (12/10), 7-5.