Thanks for visiting the Australian Open Website. We can see you’re using Internet Explorer, and wanted to let you know that we will no longer be supporting this browser in future. We’d recommend you download a new browser if you'd like to continue keeping up with all of the latest tennis news!

Nadal survives in five to set Djokovic blockbuster at Roland Garros

  • Matt Trollope

It was the projected match-up that piqued interest when the draw made it possible, and Rafael Nadal ensured it would happen with his epic defeat of Felix Auger-Aliassime at Roland Garros.

Nadal’s 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 win over the Canadian cemented a 59th career meeting with arch-rival Novak Djokovic, who earlier on Sunday reached the quarterfinals with an efficient 6-1 6-3 6-3 win over Diego Schwartzman.

While Rome champion Djokovic has now won 22 consecutive sets, Nadal booked his place opposite the world No.1 in completely different fashion.

He required four hours and 21 minutes to subdue the gallant Auger-Aliassime, who extended Nadal to a fifth set at Roland Garros for just the third time in 112 career matches.

It sets a 10th match-up between Nadal and Djokovic at the clay-court major.

Putting this into even more thrilling context is the fact the victor could then face surging youngster Carlos Alcaraz, who takes on Alexander Zverev in the other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw.

"REACHING MY DREAM": Alcaraz enjoys strong start at Roland Garros

Nadal and Djokovic have never met earlier than the quarterfinals in Paris, a stage at which they played in 2006 and 2015, splitting those meetings. 

While Nadal has won seven of their nine previous matches here, Djokovic has won two of their most recent three – including a bruising semifinal last year from which Nadal did not recover.

It was when a chronic foot injury flared up and restricted him to just two matches for the remainder of that season.

Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2021
Novak Djokovic (L) and Rafael Nadal shake hands after Djokovic won their 2021 Roland Garros semifinal 3-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2. (Getty Images)

Knowing this, Nadal sounded especially grateful simply to have progressed this far at the 2022 tournament, presenting him with another opportunity to partake in a storied rivalry.

“I can't complain much. I am in quarterfinals of Roland Garros. Two weeks and a half ago, even if I had positive hopes after Rome, I even don't know if I would be able to be here,” admitted Nadal, just days out from his 36th birthday.

“So just enjoying the fact that I am here for one more year. And being honest, every match that I play here, I don't know if (it’s) gonna be my last match here in Roland Garros in my tennis career, no? That's my situation now.

“Of course I went through a tough process again with my foot, so I don't know what can happen in the near future with my career. 

“But that's why I am just trying to enjoy as much as possible and fight as much as I can to keep living the dream that is keep playing tennis and be back in a very advanced round of Roland Garros, playing against the world No.1.”

Djokovic holds a slim 30-28 advantage in the pair’s head-to-head series, one that dates back to 2006 with that very first meeting at Roland Garros.

No two male players have clashed more often in the Open Era, yet they haven’t since that semifinal here 12 months ago.

For all of Nadal’s staggering records at Roland Garros – he advanced to a 16th French quarterfinal with his victory over Auger-Aliassime – Djokovic is also a magnificent performer in Paris.

The Serb has now reached the quarterfinals for 13 consecutive years, and has won 85 matches at the tournament – his highest tally at any of the four majors.

In his past 17 appearances, he has fallen before the quarterfinals just once.

“I'm glad that I didn't spend too much time on the court myself up to quarterfinals, knowing that playing (Nadal) in Roland Garros is always a physical battle, along with everything else,” Djokovic said.

“It's a huge challenge and probably the biggest one that you can have here in Roland Garros.

“I'm ready for it. I like the way I have been feeling, the way I have been hitting the ball. I will focus on what I need to do. I like my chances.”

There was a comparative hesitancy in Nadal’s comments about the looming battle.

Contributing to this was the fact it had been a year since their last meeting, denying Nadal useful recent data points. 

“I didn't play this kind of matches for the last three months, so gonna be a big challenge for me,” said Nadal, who was sidelined for six weeks after Indian Wells due to a rib stress fracture.

“Of course he already won I think last nine matches in a row, winning in Rome and now winning here in straight sets every match. Probably he will be confident.

“I know how is my situation, and I accept it well. I gonna fight for it. That's it.

“I hope to be able to give myself a chance to play at the highest level possible and then let's see.”