Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal has moved within two wins of creating history by becoming the first man to win 21 Grand Slam titles, after digging deep to beat Argentine Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday evening.
The 35-year-old currently shares the all-time record for men’s singles crowns with Roger Federer after drawing level when he won last year’s French Open against Novak Djokovic.
Federer has held or shared the record since he surpassed Pete Sampras’ 14 major wins at Wimbledon back in 2009.
Nadal had only six Grand Slam titles to his name at that stage but has since made Roland Garros his own backyard, winning on the clay here in Paris 13 times, a record so extraordinary it may never be broken.
And it was here, on Court Philippe-Chatrier, once again, where Nadal flexed his muscles and reminded the tennis world why he is the best player to ever play on clay, beating Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in a match that last two hours and 45 minutes.
Schwartzman couldn’t have played much better, thriving in front of a crowd of 5,000 people that smelt a whiff of an upset in their nostrils on the first day of increased capacity at Roland Garros.
The 10th seed was able to take a set off the champion from the Balearic Islands – the first time Nadal has dropped a set at the French Open since the 2019 final – but he wasn’t able to snap Nadal’s winning streak at Roland Garros, which is now at 33 on the trot and 105 from 107 appearances on the Parisian clay.
“Of course, the numbers are just amazing, no? But I can't think about that now, honestly. Let's talk about that when I finish my career,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference on Wednesday.
“Now is a moment to be happy. I won an important match today against a tough opponent. I was able to find a way to play my best tennis in the moment that I really needed, no? Something very important for me. A lot of confidence after that.
“It's a moment to enjoy today and to try to start preparing for that semi-finals in terms of recovery, in terms of practice little bit tomorrow to confirm the good feelings at the end of the match, so that's it.”
Nadal said he was proud of how he dealt with adversity during Wednesday’s captivating clash with the pint-sized South American, composing himself at crucial moments to thwart another challenger trying to dethrone him at his clay kingdom.
“I don't pretend to come here and not losing sets. It is not my mindset come here and just thinking about lose a set going to be a disaster for me. I mean, that's part of the game. We are facing the best players of the world. Lose sets is something I accepted well, I accepted during all my tennis career. The thing that matter is how you recover from a set lost,” he said.
“I have been in a tricky situation, 4-3 for him in the third set, one-set all. Then was the moment to calm myself, to think about the things that I was doing well on practices, just to try to make it happen. That was the moment to make it happen because was a tough, tough moment.
“I'm very proud that in that moment probably the best level of tennis that I had I showed up until that 4-3 with not many mistakes, hitting a lot of winners, starting to hit the forehand down the line, playing more angles, playing longer with my forehand cross, returning a little bit better.”
Nadal will now face the winner of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and 9th seed Matteo Berrettini on Friday.
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