No one can put more pressure on Nadal than Djokovic, 35, and no one can put more pressure on Djokovic than Nadal.
Nadal won 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) in front of a capacity crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier, keeping alive his chances of adding to his record number of French Open titles and extending his men’s record total of 21 Grand Slam titles.
At the same time, he denied Djokovic any chance of matching his Grand Slam record — at least for the time being.
Nadal became emotional during his on-court interview after clinching the victory in the tiebreaker — on his fifth match point — and appeared to hold back tears while thanking the crowd in French for their support and explaining that Roland Garros, where he is 110-3, has been the most special place in his career.
When he returned to English, he praised Djokovic and the challenge he poses.
“To win against Novak, there’s only one way: to play at your best since the first point until the last,” Nadal said.
Two hurdles remain for the fifth-seeded Nadal: a semifinal on his 36th birthday against third-seeded Alexander Zverev, who beat teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz in four sets; and, if he wins that, the championship match on Sunday.
Nadal brought his doctor to the French Open after breaking a rib in a tournament in March and battling a chronic pain condition in his left foot. Given his foot condition and uncertainty about how much longer he can continue, he acknowledged for the second time in three days during his post-match news conference that each match he plays at the French Open could be his last.
“I am putting everything that I have to try to play this tournament with the best conditions possible, no?” Nadal said.
“I don’t know what can happen after, honestly. … I still like playing for nights like today. But is just a quarterfinals match, no? So I didn’t win anything. So I just give myself a chance to be back on court in two days, play another semifinals here in Roland Garros.”