Rafael Nadal recalls: ‘I was lucky to break back against Jannik Sinner in Paris’

Rafael Nadal turned pro in 2001, the same the young Italian Jannik Sinner was born! Sinner needed only a couple of seasons to become one of the world’s leading players, and he got a chance to face one of his idols at the last year’s Roland Garros. Making his debut in Paris, Sinner claimed four wins last October to advance into the first Major quarter-final, with the 12-time champion Nadal standing on the other side of the court. Nadal and Sinner entered Court Philippe-Chatrier late and stayed on it for almost three hours during the night session, with Rafa prevailing 7-6, 6-4, 6-1. Rafa had to work much harder than in the previous four rounds to earn the 98th triumph at Roland Garros, and he needed over two hours to claim the opening two sets alone.

Nadal got broken twice and produced six successful return games, finishing the clash with 37 winners and 33 unforced errors. Rafa saved a break point at 2-2 following the youngster’s loose backhand, and there were no break chances in the next five games. A teenager grabbed a late break when Nadal sent a forehand wide, moving 6-5 in front and serving for the set. With no room for errors, the Spaniard placed two forehand down the line winners to bring the break back, level the score and introduce a tie break. With momentum on his side, Rafa opened a 5-2 lead and sealed it at 6-4 when Sinner sprayed a forehand error. The youngster fired a forehand winner at 2-1 in set number two to forge the advantage. The more experienced player broke back immediately after Sinner’s forehand error and locked the result at 3-3.

Rafael Nadal defeated Jannik Sinner at the last year’s Roland Garros.

Jannik led 40-15 in game nine before Nadal took four straight points to secure a crucial break, closing the set after deuce at 5-4 and moving a set away from victory in two hours and 11 minutes. Rafa broke in the first game of the third set with a backhand crosscourt winner, held after deuce and broke at love in game three when Jannik sent a backhand long. The Spaniard held after another deuce for a 4-0 lead before the Italian added his name to the scoreboard and extended the clash. Nadal sealed the deal with a break in game seven, overpowering the youngster and advancing into the last four.

“Thank you very much for staying this late; very tough conditions tonight. Sinner is a talented youngster; he plays with a lot of power and delivers great shots. It was a challenging battle for two sets, especially in the closing stages of the first, when I got lucky to pull that break back at 5-6. The conditions were a bit difficult because he was hitting every ball very hard. It was demanding to hit the way I wanted, as you can not get too much spin with these balls during cold weather. It was not easy to move Jannik away from his comfort zone. I did a much better job in set number three, playing with more aggression and feeling thrilled about reaching another semi-final in Paris,” Rafael Nadal said.

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