PARIS — Carlos Alcaraz displayed deft drop shots and plenty of other skillful strokes to become the youngest man in the French Open’s fourth round since Novak Djokovic in 2006.
The 19-year-old Alcaraz advanced by beating 21-year-old American Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 under the lights at Court Philippe Chatrier on Friday night.
This outcome reversed the result of a meeting between the two at the Monte Carlo Open last month, which Korda won to account for Alcaraz’s lone loss on red clay in 20 matches in 2022.
It also was a much smoother ride for Alcaraz than in the second round at Roland Garros on Wednesday. In that one, needed to save a match point before coming back to win in five sets against fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
Alcaraz improved to 31-3 overall this year with a tour-leading four titles.
The tournament’s No. 6 seed will meet No. 21 Karen Khachanov on Sunday for a berth in the quarterfinals.
The 27th-seeded Korda’s father, Petr, was the runner-up at the 1992 French Open.
Also Friday, Rafael Nadal knew this was bound to happen. So, too, did his uncle, Toni Nadal, who coached Rafael to most of the nephew’s men’s-record 21 Grand Slam titles.
Also well aware this moment would come, of course, was Felix Auger-Aliassime, the promising player who brought aboard the man known to many simply as Uncle Toni for some extra assistance last year.
Once Toni and Rafael ended their professional partnership, and once Auger-Aliassime hired Toni to work in tandem with full-time coach Frederic Fontang, they all figured that somewhere, sometime, their paths would cross. Now it’ll happen in the French Open’s fourth round: Nadal vs. Auger-Aliassime. Which in some ways is also a matchup of Nadal vs. Nadal.
So, the 13-time champion at Roland Garros was asked, might there be some awkwardness there? Probably no way you’ll be chatting with your uncle ahead of Sunday’s meeting against the ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime, a 21-year-old from Canada, right?
Nadal shook his head and said he already had spoken to Toni straight after beating 26th-seeded Botic Van De Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday.
“For me, it’s very simple. He’s my uncle. I don’t think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt, but he’s a professional and he’s with another player,” said the fifth-seeded Nadal, who has dealt with chronic foot pain and a rib injury this season but also won the Australian Open in January.
“It’s not a story at all for me. I know what the feelings are that we have between each other. I know he wants the best for me. Now he’s helping another player,” he said. “But honestly, for me, it’s zero problem.”
Auger-Aliassime, meanwhile, resolved one little bit of intrigue, saying that he expected Uncle Toni to sit in a neutral spot in the stands, rather than being forced to choose between one player’s guest box or the other.
As for what sort of insights Toni might reveal about his former player to his current one, Auger-Aliassime smiled. Not too many unknowns about Rafael at this point, not at age 35, not after so many years on tour.
“I know him. I’ve seen him play. I know what he does well. We all know,” said Auger-Aliassime, a 2021 U.S. Open semifinalist who advanced Friday by defeating Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2), 7-5.
“But nobody — Toni, Fred or me — has the answers,” he said.
On the horizon is the prospect that if Nadal wins, he could find yet another familiar face in the stadium for the quarterfinals: defending champion Djokovic.
Both the top-seeded Djokovic, who beat Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 on Friday and now takes on 15th-seeded Diego Schwartzman, and Nadal have won all nine sets they’ve played on the red clay of Paris so far. And both have ceded just 23 games total.
They have played each other 58 times already, more than any two other men in the Open era, and No. 59 might come next week. Asked earlier in the tournament about that “pretty good lefty in your quarter of the draw,” Djokovic played dumb and joked: “I don’t know who you are talking about.”
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