French Open 2015: Rafael Nadal wins No70 to set up Novak Djokovic clash

Rafael Nadal beats Jack Sock in four sets to reach his 10th French Open quarter-final, where he will play Novak Djokovic

One of the biggest challenges for any tennis fan is getting to grips with the enormity of what Rafael Nadal has achieved at Roland Garros.

Ten appearances—his first a decade ago as a teenager—and nine titles;

Just one match lost, in the fourth round in 2009, against a tally of 69 wins;

Aiming to become the first man ever to win 10 titles at any one Major and the first to win six French Opens in a row.

So when Nadal took on young American Jack Sock, he was targeting an unparalleled 70 match-wins and a 10th quarter-final at Roland Garros.

And yet for many, and for the first time in many a year, Nadal did not come in as automatic favourite. He arrived in Paris with just one clay title to his name, the 250 in Buenos Aires, and while it was not too much of a surprise that he fell in the semis of the Monte-Carlo Masters to Novak Djokovic, his loss to Fabio Fognini in his second match in Barcelona was rather more so, and his loss to Andy Murray in the Madrid final was his first clay loss to the Briton. Then at the Rome Masters, he went out in the quarters to Stan Wawrinka, his first loss to the Swiss on clay.

So Nadal’s hopes of winning his remarkable 10th French title had become the subject of much debate, especially as he began his campaign seeded outside the top five for the first time in 10 years.

His draw was also the subject of great speculation: He could meet one of his great rivals in the quarter-finals rather than in the semis. And he fell into Djokovic’s path, the man who had beaten him in five of their last six matches, and in two of their last three on clay—though Nadal’s one win in that streak was right here, in last year’s final.

His draw in the early stages at least had been decent. He could reach the quarters without playing a seed, indeed had not thus far played a man ranked higher than 120.

But the No37-ranked Sock was expected to provide a rather more stern test, especially as his game could benefit from the rather faster conditions of the Suzanne Lenglen arena. He was not expected to score the second ever win over Nadal at Roland Garros, but could certainly ask a few questions.

Sock had reached the fourth-round of a Major for the first time by beating No10 seed Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and Borna Coric and arrived here after winning his first singles title on Houston’s clay. And despite undergoing hip surgery at the end of 2014, he was close a career-high ranking, too.

Sock had another set of weapons, as well as a fast serve and forehand: He was a Wimbledon doubles champion, with some finely tuned net game. But that did little good on the French clay. Nadal broke, held, and broke again to take a 3-1 lead at the very start. Sock did manage a break back but would manage just one more game in an opening 6-3, 42-minute set.

And if that did not give the 22-year-old American a lesson, the next set did. Nadal may not be renowned for playing fast matches, but he raced through the second set, 5-0, before Sock managed a game. The defending champion took the set in 31 minutes, 6-1.

Thus far, Nadal had played and won twice as many net points as Sock and dropped only eight points on serve in the match. In the second set, he had made just one unforced error. Would Sock fare any better in the third set?

He certainly regained an early break, much to the disgust of Nadal, but the Spaniard broke again and served for the set at five minutes short of two hours.

Then a late flurry from the American saw him go up 0-30, and when Nadal was forced to play a second serve on break point, after a second time violation warning, he hit long, and Sock broke for 5-5. Not only that, Sock held serve and played two winners to bring up break points. One more forehand winner up the line and the American had the set, 7-5.

The fourth set took almost as long to reach 3-1 to Nadal as the entire second set. But from that point on, Nadal began to reel off passing shots, chase down drops and lobs in his old familiar way, and broke again for 5-2. This time he made no mistake, and served out with a winner, 6-2, after little short of three hours.

Nadal’s joy was evident in his various attempts to thank the crowd. He beamed throughout, beginning in French, switching to English, diverting into Spanish, and finishing with “To have any chance against him, I know I have to play my real best tennis. I am going to try my best!”

He referred, of course, to his next match against Djokovic, the one that jumped off the draw sheet, their 44th meeting. For the world No1, who has targeted this title from the start of the season, was about to serve out his match against Richard Gasquet, on the dot of two hours on Philippe Chatrier, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.

Djokovic will remain many people’s favourite for the title here, and in reaching his 24th straight Major quarter-final, he extended his unbeaten clay run to 14, his season run to 39 for two losses.

But come Wednesday, don’t expect Nadal to give up his most treasured possession without leaving blood, sweat and tears on the court.

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