TENNIS – His straight sets victory over Britain’s Cameron Norrie at the French Open may look an easy win on paper for Nadal, but the defending champion was pushed at times.
Nadal needed just two hours and seven minutes to complete the victory. So far in the competition he has only been on court a total of six hours and 44 minutes on court.
“I found a way to be through, and that’s the most important thing for me,” Nadal said. “I think I played for moments some good tennis. For moments I can do it a little bit better, but I was able to win in straight sets and that’s so important for me.”
Nadal breaking when it mattered
Norrie broke Nadal twice – for 2-0 and 3-1 – in the second set. However, every time the Brit pulled away, the Spaniard had an answer. After Nadal levelled the set at 3-all, he broke again for 4-3 and pulled away from there, winning eleven of the last 14 games.
“I don’t think I have been returning unbelievable today,” confessed the 35-year-old. “I just returned okay. But then I was solid from the baseline to put one more ball in and to make him play.
“Always is difficult to confirm the break. And that’s what I tried to do, no? To put him in a tough position to let him play one more ball and tough balls to confirm that break, and I was happy to have both times to break back. Have been huge confidence for me…
“So after that, I can’t say the match was over, because never is [it] over, but after that second set I felt that I had a very important advantage.”
Italy’s Sinner in the next round
Next up for Nadal? A familiar foe in Italy’s Jannik Sinner.
Last year, Sinner became the first man since Nadal in 2005 to reach the Roland-Garros quarter-finals on his main draw debut. And it was Nadal he faced there. He tested the Spaniard with a close fought first set, which he even served for, before losing 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 49 minutes.
Sinner has come up leaps and bounds in the last nine months and will meet Nadal for the third time in less than a year. Nadal defeated Sinner two weeks ago in Rome, 7-5, 6-4.
The 13-time Roland Garros champion knows this won’t be an easy match.
“He’s young. He’s improving every week,” Nadal said. “He has big shots. Gonna be a tough one. I need to be solid. I need to be aggressive too, because if not it’s very difficult. I need to make him play from tough positions, and I can’t make a lot of mistakes, no?
“Jannik is not the best fourth round, without a doubt, no, he’s a dangerous one. He’s young. He’s a great player. We know each other well. So, let’s see.”