Rafael Nadal beats Jannik Sinner in latest French Open finish ever

Rafael Nadal
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After all these years, Rafael Nadal experienced a first at the French Open in his 100th match at Roland Garros: finishing after midnight. The latest finish ever at Roland Garros, in fact.

Nadal moved two match wins shy of tying Roger Federer for the male Grand Slam singles titles record, sweeping 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.

The match ended at 1:26 a.m. local time, but Nadal, now 98-2 at the French, gets an extra day of rest. His semifinal against 12th-seeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman is on Friday.

The French Open never had match play after 10 p.m. until this year. Now that there’s a roof installed on Court Philippe Chatrier and lights around the grounds, play can continue past sunset.

It’s come in handy with frequent rain and shorter days at this year’s tournament, postponed from its usual May-June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Nadal was more concerned with the temperatures, playing Tuesday in the 50s with wind causing chattering from the flapping flags above the stadium.

“Of course, is not ideal finish, a match at 1:30 in the morning,” he said. “But the problem is the weather. Is too cold to play.

“I know [soccer] players plays under these conditions, but is little bit different. They are all the time moving. We stop. We come back. We stop on the changeovers. It is a sport that you are stopped in a lot of moments, no? I think is little bit dangerous for the body play with these very heavy conditions.”

Sinner, a promising talent playing his first French Open, gave Nadal all he could handle early on. He broke the 12-time Roland Garros champion to serve for the first set, but couldn’t consolidate and then lost the tiebreak.

After Sinner had a trainer work on his thigh, he broke Nadal again in the Spaniard’s second service game of the second set. But Nadal won nine of the last 10 games, sweeping his fifth straight opponent.

“I had actually quite a great plan,” said Sinner, who grew up near the Austrian border as a skier with a Bode Miller poster on his wall. “It worked quite well.”

Sinner was the first player to reach the French Open quarterfinals in his Roland Garros debut since a 19-year-old Nadal in 2005, the year of his first title.

If Nadal is to tie Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam titles on Sunday, he must get past Schwartzman, who beat Nadal in a clay-court event on Sept. 19.

“He’s coming with big confidence, no?” Nadal said.

Schwartzman dumped third-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-7 (8), 7-6 (5), 6-2 earlier Tuesday to make his first Slam semifinal.

“I know this week that I can beat him,” Schwartzman said after joking about a lack of confidence due to his 1-9 head-to-head record against Nadal. “Rafa is the legend here, is the owner of this place almost.”

Novak Djokovic looms as a possible finalist on the other half of the draw.

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