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Tennis’s answer to “Le Crunch” is here. It might not be a final – not officially, at any rate – but the French Open will reach a crescendo in Friday's showdown between Rafael Nadal and his closest clay-court rival Novak Djokovic.
It’s a shame that the 58th meeting between these two giants will arrive so early, but that was always a possible consequence of Nadal’s laughable seeding at No 3 (itself a result of the grand slams slavishly following the ATP rankings rather than coming up with a surface-specific list of their own).
Wednesday's only surprise was that both men dropped a set in their respective quarter-finals. Each matches delivered real drama, even if the ultimate destination was a predictable one.
Playing the night session, Djokovic was a matter of inches away from easing past Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in short order. But a couple of false shots in the third-set tie-break turned this into a much more complicated affair.
The plot thickened as the match clock ticked past three hours. Not only did almost 5,000 fans have to be escorted out of the stands at 11pm, thanks to the Parisian Covid curfew, but Djokovic also needed treatment on a cut hand after an uncharacteristic slip and fall.
In the end, he gathered himself to close out a 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 win in 3hr 28min against an exhausted-looking Berrettini, who seemed to be suffering a recurrence of an old abdominal injury. Still, the intensity of Djokovic’s eye-bulging celebration showed how concerned he had been, especially about Berrettini’s armour-piercing forehand. A few minutes earlier, he had also kicked a courtside advertising hoarding so hard that it cracked.
Earlier, Nadal had found himself in an awkward corner for a short spell during his own quarter-final against Diego Schwartzman. After a hard-fought opening to this match, Schwartzman had the temerity to nick the second set. It was the first set that Nadal had dropped at Roland Garros in 731 days and 12 matches.
As an emboldened Schwartzman established a 4-3 lead in the third, we heard the faint hint of an alarm bell. Nadal’s groundstrokes lacked their usual bite and accuracy. His movement was ever so slightly sluggish. After so many straight-sets processions, might he have forgotten how it feels to play a tight match on Court Philippe Chatrier?
So far, so good for Schwartzman. But poking a hibernating bear with a stick is ill-advised, unless that stick is attached to the barrel of an extremely large gun. At 4-3 in the third, Nadal woke up and roared. The next 25 minutes constituted the nearest thing to a ritual disembowelling that tennis can deliver.
Suddenly, the Nadal forehand stopped dropping short and began exploding off the surface like a doodlebug. Its owner seemed to have pressed a switch and travelled back to his peak, somewhere around 2011. No longer was he simply hanging in rallies, trading crosscourts in a conventional way as if his mind was somewhere else.
Instead, Nadal was committing to his unique gamestyle by ignoring his backhand – despite the fact that it is a phenomenal shot in its own right. Only forehands would do from now on, even if he had to run all the way into the tramlines to play them.
Here was intensity of a kind we hadn’t seen all tournament. For the 5ft 7in Schwartzman, who had been stepping boldly into the ball and taking it on the rise, the switch was a chastening one. He was blown away as swiftly and decisively as a dandelion head in a tornado.
A revitalised Nadal won the next nine games to complete a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory in 2hr 45min. Yet the killer stat does not relate to those nine games, but rather to the points: 37 to Nadal until the end of the match, seven to Schwartzman.
If the men’s quarter-finals ultimately followed the script, then the women’s draw continued to deliver chaos theory in action. Iga Swiatek’s 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Maria Sakkari on Wednesday means that there will be a new major champion on Saturday, while Coco Gauff also lost a match she had been favoured to win against Barbora Krejcikova.
Boulter continues to improve as Heather Watson awaits in Nottingham
The sight of Katie Boulter serving bombs and crunching forehands at Nottingham on Wednesday was a reminder of what British tennis had missed since the ill-fated Billie Jean King Cup tie of April 2019.
That was the weekend when Boulter went out to play against Kazakhstan, despite a sore back, only for the niggle to develop into a spinal stress fracture that completely derailed her career.
To add insult to injury, her courageous, tie-clinching victory over Zarina Diyas was rendered irrelevant when the International Tennis Federation promptly restructured the competition.
In the 26 months between those regrettable events and last weekend, Boulter had managed only four victories at tour level – although one of them was an eye-catching win over American prodigy Coco Gauff in Melbourne in February this year.
So it feels good to report that she has finally got herself back into peak physical shape, having recently overcome a small muscle tear in her serving arm. Since moving on to the grass, which she had identified as the key phase of her season, her results have been picking up in earnest.
Wednesday’s 6-4, 6-3 win over Marie Bouzkova, the world No 52, was Boulter’s second at the Viking Nottingham Open. She had already beaten Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, another top-100 opponent.
One common factor between Boulter’s brave stand against Kazakhstan and this week’s fine form is that her grandfather – an engineer and inventor whom she often cites as her inspiration – was in the stands on both occasions.
The Nottingham Open must count as her home tournament, as she comes from the small Leicestershire village of Woodhouse Eaves, no more than 20 miles away.
Boulter will now face compatriot Heather Watson in the third round, after Watson survived another all-British encounter on Wednesday against Tara Moore 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
Remarkably, you have to go back to 1992 for the last time that two British women met in the third round – or later – of a WTA event. That match was a quarter-final between Clare Wood and Monique Javer in Wellington, New Zealand.
That's all folks
That's for joining our coverage from Roland Garros.
On Thursday, Telegraph Sport will bring live blogs of the women's semi-finals with Maria Sakkari taking on Barbora Krejcikova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova against Tamara Zidansek.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 Schwartzman
Schwartzman forehand return long, 15-0. Nadal forehand winner, 30-0. Nadal backhand winner, 40-0.
GAME. SET. MATCH Nadal. Schwartzman nets with a forehand to finish a disappointing set.
Nadal wins 25 of the last 30 points to reach the semi-finals. An emphatic display.
Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 5-0 Schwartzman*
Two forehand winners into the corner by Nadal, 15-30. A rare miss by Nadal makes it 40-30.
Schwartzman double faults. Deuce. Backhand long from Schwartzman, break point Nadal.
And Nadal is on the brink of victory as he chases down a Schwartzman drop shot and finishes with a forehand winner.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 4-0 Schwartzman
Nadal finished his last match with a bagel set and he looks in the mood to do it. Schwartzman has won just two of the last 18 points. Seven games in a row.
Two games away from victory.
Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 3-0 Schwartzman*
Triple break point for a double Nadal break. And Schwartzman's spirit is broken as Nadal duly breaks to edge closer to the semi-finals.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 2-0 Schwartzman
Schwartzman looks to be flagging physcially and Nadal is in cruise control. Nadal wins his fifth game in a row and it is a mountain to climb now.
Fourth set: Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 1-0 Schwartzman*
Schwartzman backhand long, 15-30. Another error gives Nadal two break points. A quick and easy break is gifted to Nadal as Schwartzman misses again.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 Schwartzman
It feels as though Nadal flicked a switch and went on attack mode in the last couple of games. It is a level few and couple with and Schwartzman is a victim to it as he falls to 40-0.
Schwartzman nets a forehand and Nadal takes the set.
Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 5-4 Schwartzman*
Problems for Schwartzman as he comes alive and whips a forehand up the line for a winner, 0-30.
Good response from Schwartzman as he hits a cross court backhand. But on the next point his backhand clips the top of the net and flicks wide, two break points Nadal.
Schwartzman backhand winner saves the first. Great rally between the two men and Nadal gets the break when Schwartzman's lob is just beyond the baseline.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6, 4-4 Schwartzman
Nadal's best game of the set so far. He blasts a backhand winner down the line to close out the game.
Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 3-4 Schwartzman*
Schwartzman has been imperious on serve in this set. Stress free as Nadal looks to find ways to break him down.
A much wanted love hold for Schwartzman.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6, 3-3 Schwartzman
Schwartzman gets three overheads back in play and Nadal then nets a forehand. Stunning defence, 0-15. Nadal forehand wide, 15-30. Nadal drop shot winner, 30-30.
Schwartzman nets a forehand, big opportunity missed. And Nadal duly holds. Still on serve in this set.
Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 2-3 Schwartzman*
Gorgeous drop shot winner by Schwartzman, 30-0. Nadal then puts a forehand return just wide.
A perfect game for Schwartzman as Nadal puts a backhand wide.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6, 2-2 Schwartzman
Routine hold to 15 for Nadal as he finishes with an overhead smash.
Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 1-2 Schwartzman*
Too good from Schwartzman as he puts away an angled volley winner, 30-30.
Schwartzman's backhand is a beauty and a drills a shot down the line for a winner, 40-30. And he maintains his serve when Nadal's forehand is juse wide.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6, 1-1 Schwartzman
Schwartzman gets to 15-30 after Nadal puts a forehand wide. But never question Nadal's ability to recover as holds serve and yells out 'vamos'.
Third set: Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 0-1 Schwartzman*
Schwartzman winning the set ended a run of 36 sets in a row for Nadal. And Schwartzman is in no mood to give up the momentum as he holds.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-6 Schwartzman
Trademark Nadal forehand winner on the run after the longest rally of the match, 15-0. Nadal double fault, 30-15.
Schwartzman is pushing Nadal back and getting rewards as the latter puts a forehand wide, 30-30. Nadal then puts a forehand long. Set point for Schwartzman.
Nadal tries a drop, it is not very good and Schwartzman reaches it. The Argentine's backhand is deep and Nadal mishits his forehand and the ball flies long. The set goes to Schwartzman. Game on.
Nadal 6-3, 4-5 Schwartzman*
Bad miss by Nadal on the forehand, 30-15. He doesn't make to many of those. But he makes another to give Schwartzman a 5-4 lead.
And he holds with a blistering forehand winner down the line. Great job.
Nadal* 6-3, 4-4 Schwartzman
Nadal overhead smash winner, 30-15. Incredible lob by Schwartzman, 30-30. A second overhead winner by Nadal in this game.
And he holds again. We are in the business end of the set now.
Nadal 6-3, 3-4 Schwartzman*
What a point between the two players and this time it is Schwartzman getting Nadal on the run and finishing with an overhead smash winner, 30-0.
Big forehand into the corner followed by a volley winner by Schwartzman, 40-15. And he stays in front with a forehand winner. Big hold.
Nadal* 6-3, 3-3 Schwartzman
Nadal is stamping his authority all over the match now and Schwartzman has no answer. Nadal is moving his man left and right and tiring him out.
From 0-3 to 3-3. Schwartzman is looking a little frustrated.
Nadal 6-3, 2-3 Schwartzman*
Sometimes there is just nothing you can do against Nadal on clay. Schwartzman did little wrong but Nadal moves to 0-40.
Schwartzman saves the first but puts a backhand wide on the second and Nadal breaks back.
Nadal* 6-3, 1-3 Schwartzman
Nadal gets back on track as he holds to 15.
Nadal 6-3, 0-3 Schwartzman*
Nadal's radar is a bit off at the moment and that created a momentum shift which Schwartzman is taking full advantage of. He holds to 15.
Nadal* 6-3, 0-2 Schwartzman
Schwartzman's bright start to the set is rewarded as she earns a break point at 30-40.
And he does get the break with a deep return which catches out Nadal. Ideal beginning to the set.
Second set: Nadal 6-3, 0-1 Schwartzman*
Promising start by Schwartzman as he holds serve to 15. Can he make further inroads on Nadal's serve?
Nadal* 6-3 Schwartzman
No dramas for Nadal in this service game as he eases to three set points.
He double faults on the first. But hits a forehand down the line for a winner to claim the set.
Nadal 5-3 Schwartzman*
Schwartzman's backhand goes long, 0-30. And another mistake makes it 0-40.
The Argentine saves the first. And then the second when Nadal nets a backhand. This would be a huge escape.
All three saved as Nadal nets a forehand. But he gets a fourth break point when Schwartzman double faults.
And Nadal does break again and will serve for the set when Schwartzman puts a forehand long.
Nadal* 4-3 Schwartzman
Wow. Immediate break back opportunity for Schwartzman as he earns three break points after a couple of loose shots.
Nadal saves the first with a forehand winner. But Schwartzman drills a backhand winner to get back level.
Nadal 4-2 Schwartzman*
Nadal has been threatening on Schwartzman's serve and he gets three break points.
Schwartzman misses the first serve and he is punished on the second serve as Nadal hits a huge return winner.
Nadal* 3-2 Schwartzman
Schwartzman is yet to make his mark on Nadal's serve in the match. But he gets to 30-30 after a series of big forehands.
Nadal then gets ahead with an overhead smash winner and seals the game with a forehand winner.
Nadal 2-2 Schwartzman*
Schwartzman falls to 15-30 again when he puts a forehand wide. He then nets a forehand to hand Nadal two break points.
Nadal wastes the first when he puts a forehand wide. And loses the second as Schwartzman goes on the attack and draws the error.
And that's a great hold as the little Argentine hangs on.
Nadal* 2-1 Schwartzman
Blistering forehand winner down the line by Nadal to hold.
Schwartzman will want to avoid getting into lengthy rallies with Nadal because there is only one winner there.
Nadal 1-1 Schwartzman*
Early troubles for Schwartzman as he falls to 15-30 but forehand winner by him makes it 30-30.
Nadal then hits a backhand and goes long with a return to hand Schwartzman the game.
First set: Rafael Nadal* 1-0 Diego Schwartzman (*denotes server)
Ominous start for Schwartzman as Nadal comfortably holds serve to start the match.
Nadal has won the toss and elected to serve first.
Here we go
Nadal and Schwartzman walk onto court for their match to a huge reception from the crowd.
Upsets in the women's draw
It's been a day of shocks but the end result is we will have a first-time Grand Slam winner in the women's draw.
First Barbora Krejcikova beat Coco Gauff in the first match of the day. And now, Maria Sakkari has knocked out defending champion Iga Swiatek.
Full reaction here.
Hello again and welcome to coverage of the first men's quarter-final of the day between Rafael Nadal vs Diego Schwartzman.
Beating Nadal on a clay court, at the French Open, is one of the hardest tasks in sport. The Spaniard has won his last 35 sets in Paris and hasn't been beaten at Roland Garros since 2016.
Schwartzman has won just once in 11 meetings with Nadal but the Argentine is still relishing the chance to play the 'King of Clay'.
"If you think about the four, five hours you are going to play, if you think about everything about Rafa in Roland Garros, he's very difficult to play," Schwartzman said.
"You have to go on court, think about the tactics, think about how to play your best game.
"Playing against Rafa in these kinds of tournaments, it's always a good time to know how good are you playing," Schwartzman said. "It's always a good challenge. I want to be there one more time."
The winner of this match will play either Novak Djokovic or Matteo Berrettini in the semi-finals on Friday.
The other semi-final will see Stefanos Tsitsipas meet sixth seed Alexander Zverev. Both men came through their quarter-finals matches in straight sets.
And Tsitsipas, a loser of his previous three Grand Slam semis, said afterwards that he believed he could go on and claim the title.
"I don't think there's a player out there that thinks they can't win the tournament," he said.
"Of course I'm playing good, and I think if I keep repeating the process, keep repeating the everyday hustle that I put, for sure there's going to be a reward, and why not?"
So stay with us for full build up, live updates and reaction as the tournament approaches the business end ahead of finals weekend.