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Nadal survives Auger-Aliassime in five to join Djokovic and Alcaraz in French Open quarterfinals

Rafael Nadal will take on world No. 1 Novak Djokovic for the 59th time in Paris, France. (Photo by Hugo Pfeiffer/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

By Ricky Dimon

The absolutely loaded top half of the French Open draw remains intact heading into the business end of the tournament.

But it wasn’t easy–at least not for Rafael Nadal.

The 13-time champion needed five sets to get past Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round on Sunday, surviving 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 after four hours and 21 minutes. With that Nadal joined Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals; both Djokovic and Alcaraz cruised through their matches in easy straight sets.

Nadal, Djokovic, and Alcaraz are the top three favorites for the men’s singles titles and all three are on the same side of the bracket. That, of course, means only one can reach the final–and only two can reach the semis. Nadal and Djokovic have to go head-to-head in the quarters, while Alcaraz will face Alexander Zverev on Tuesday.

A five-set struggle may not be ideal preparation for Nadal, but given what Auger-Aliassime threw at him he will gladly take any kind of win and live to see another day on the terre battue of Roland Garros. Auger-Aliassime fired 50 winners–a remarkable number against Nadal on clay–and served at 69 percent while committing just five unforced errors in the entire fifth set. Unfortunately for the ninth-ranked Canadian, Nadal also raised his level in the decider and struck 15 winners compared to only four errors over the final nine games.

“(What) made the difference (is) that I played a little bit better,” the 35-year-old explained. “The sport is normally very simple, no? When you play better you have better chances; if you play worse then you have, of course, less chances.

“In that case, when I played well I won the match. When I played not that well, I had a lot of troubles. Because (in the) first set I didn’t play well, so I lost. And then after the set, after the first set and a half I started to play much better in my opinion–much more aggressive. Then I played a good end of the second set and I think a very good third set. Then I made (a) super (big) mistake at the beginning of the fourth…and then I suffered. But (the) most important thing (is) that I played I think a good fifth set.”

Novak Djokovic during his match against Diego Schwartzman on Suzanne Lenglen court in the 2022 French Open 4th Round (Photo by Ibrahim Ezzat/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Good? More like great.

And the King of Clay will have to be great again if he wants to avenge last year’s French Open semifinal loss to Djokovic. Through four rounds, Djokovic has not dropped a single set and only one set has been more competitive than 6-3. On Sunday he erased Diego Schwartzman 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

Djokovic is well-rested. Nadal is battle-tested. Which factor is more important? We’ll find out on Tuesday.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.