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, 112-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 focussed, try my best and fight until the end,” said Nadal on facing 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-finals.
Nadal hailed 21-year-old Auger-Aliassime, who has been working with his uncle and former coach Toni since April last year.
“Felix is a great player. 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 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 the sixth of 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. Auger-Aliassime said he was happy with his performance.
“He raised his level when he needed to. I did what I had to do. He was dictating, aggressive when he needed to and also defending really well,” said the Canadian.
Djokovic or Nadal could face Spanish teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals.
On Sunday, the 19-year-old romped into his first French Open quarter-final with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win over Russian Karen Khachanov.
“I had a great match from start to finish,” said sixth seed Alcaraz who will face German third seed in the last eight. The teenager defeated Zverev in the Madrid Masters final earlier this month after also knocking out Djokovic and Nadal.
It was a second successive straight-sets win for Alcaraz after saving a match point when winning a second-round thriller against compatriot Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
Alcaraz is the youngest man in the last eight since Djokovic in 2006. Zverev reached the quarter-finals for the fourth time by ending Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles’ run in a 7-6 (13/11), 7-5, 6-3 victory.
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.
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.