In October last year, Rafael Nadal claimed the 13th Roiland Garros title, writing history and joining Roger Federer on 20 Major crowns. Nadal proved his greatness on the slowest surface once again at 34, beating all seven rivals in straight sets and handling all the challenges brought by colder weather and a roof over Court Philippe-Chatrier. Rafa had to endure three tight sets en route to the title, and the first came against the young Italian Jannik Sinner in the quarter-final. Nadal and Sinner hit the court late thanks to a marathon between Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman and finished their clash at 1:30 am. Praising Sinner’s performance, Tim Henman said it could have been a long Parisian night for Rafa had Jannik won that opening set, expecting more significant results from the youngest top-100 player in 2021, which proved as a correct call.
Nadal needed two hours and 49 minutes to dismiss the youngster 7-6, 6-4, 6-1 after trailing in sets one and two. The Spaniard scored six breaks from eight chances and lost serve twice, finishing the clash with 37 winners and 33 unforced errors. Unimpressed with the rival on the other side of the net, Jannik matched Rafa’s pace and grabbed the first break at 5-5 to serve for the opening set. Nadal landed two forehand winners to pull the break back in the last minute and prolong the action, taking the tie break 7-4 when Sinner sent a forehand long to avoid an early scare.
Jannik Sinner pushed Rafael Nadal to the limits for two sets in Paris last year.
Jannik still pushed strong in set number two, opening a 3-1 lead before Rafa erased the deficit and locked the result at 3-3. Leading 40-15 at 4-4, Sinner lost four straight points to suffer a break, allowing Nadal to secure the set on his serve in the next one and move closer to the finish line. Carried by this momentum, Rafa broke in the third set’s first game and again at 2-0 at love when Jannik sprayed a backhand mistake. The Spaniard sealed the deal with the third break at 5-1 to overpower the young gun and advance into the semis.
“I’ve been very impressed with Jannik Sinner’s progress. His performance against Nadal at Roland Garros was impressive. If Sinner had gotten that first set under his belt, that could have been a long evening for Nadal. I look at his game, and I see much room for improvement. And that, I think, is what makes it so exciting, because he is already an excellent player. I think his serve can improve; he can get physically stronger, which will aid his movement. He will gain experience, and we can expect a big year for Sinner in 2021,” Tim Henman said.