Nadal battles past Sinner in near 1.30am finish

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Nadal battles past Sinner in near 1.30am finish

Rafael Nadal battled his way past 19-year-old Jannik Sinner to reach the French Open semi-finals and book an encounter with his Italian Open conqueror Diego Schwartzman. In what was Nadal’s 100th match at Roland Garros, the 12-time champion moved his record to 98-2 in Paris with the clock reading 1:26am local time when he eventually broke Sinner’s resolve, prevailing 7-6(4) 6-4 6-1. Sinner more than held his own for large parts of the match, however, outlining his potential by taking 11 games against Nadal – an amount only three players have bettered (Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, Schwartzman) against the Spaniard since 2015. In some ways it was the perfect match for Nadal, who was forced to dig deep ahead of his rematch with Schwartzman, who beat him in the Rome Masters quarter-final last month and overcame Dominic Thiem in a mammoth five-set encounter earlier on Tuesday. Starting at 10.36pm local time – partly due to the marathon between Schwartzman and Thiem – Sinner did not look phased by the occasion of playing his first Grand Slam quarter-final. The teenager seemed comfortable in the early stages and beat Nadal with a short backhand to earn the first break point of the match in the fifth game. Although he was unable to take the chance, Sinner continued to impress as he pushed the defending champion around the court with some powerful hitting. His aggressive approach earned him the first break of the match to move 6-5 ahead, but he followed up with a poor service game and Nadal broke straight back with successive forehand winners down the line. The 12-time champion then dominated the tie-break to win a hard-fought opening set in 72 minutes. Sinner had treatment on his thigh between sets but didn’t look troubled at the start of the second set as he continued to play on the front foot. The early stages of that second set saw the clock pass midnight in Paris, and it was Sinner who edged 3-1 in front before Nadal – as he did in the opening set – broke back immediately. After avoiding a potential accident when colliding into the chairs, at 4-4 Nadal then rallied from 40-15 to win four points in a row on Sinner’s serve and break at a crucial time, going on to serve it out the game after and take a two-set lead despite Sinner showing off his impressive shot-play. Smelling blood, Nadal broke in the first game of the third set, and then broke to love two games later after a couple of Sinner double faults. Nadal did not relent and he eventually sealed the match with a smash on Sinner’s serve, punching the air in joy and relief as he overcame his trickiest opponent of the tournament so far.