A different court, same result for Rafael Nadal on Friday at Roland Garros. Playing on Court Suzanne Lenglen for the first time since the 2021 third round, the Spaniard maintained his perfect set record this fortnight with a dominant 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over Biotic van de Zandschulp.
In a rare appearance outside of Court Philippe Chatrier, where he’s lifted the Roland Garros men’s singles title 13 times, Nadal put in the sort of performance the Paris crowd has come to expect. After dropping serve in the opening game of the match, Nadal settled in on Lenglen and quickly found an untouchable gear. He broke back immediately and held to love in his next five service games, winning 23 straight points on serve as he took the drama out of a potentially tricky third-round contest.
“Today has been a very good test and a very positive test, because I was able to play my best match of the tournament so far, without any doubt,” Nadal told the press. “For two sets and a half, I was playing at a very positive level.”
The Spaniard was crisp from the baseline as he dictated the match throughout. Van de Zandschulp offered little resistance until late when he dialed up his aggression to earn his second break of the match. From 0-4 down in the third, he climbed within a point of parity in the set, creating a break point as Nadal attempted to serve out the match at 5-4. But the fifth seed held firm, finishing the match with an 87 percent win rate (40/46) on the first serve.
Van de Zandschulp, seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam at No. 26, claimed an upset against Casper Ruud to reach the Munich final last month but never threatened to knock out Nadal in Paris. He is the first Dutchman to reach the Roland Garros third round since Thiemo de Bakker 2010.
Nadal has dropped just 20 games in nine sets to reach the fourth round, keeping alive the possibility of a fifth Roland Garros title without the loss of a set (2008, 2010, 2017, 2020). He improved to 108-3 (.973) at the tournament, with 88 of those wins coming in straight sets (81.5 percent).
Nadal advances to face Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat Filip Krajinovic 7-6(3), 7-6(2), 7-5 in a match that concluded minutes before the Spaniards. Auger-Aliassime is coached by Nadal’s uncle, Toni Nadal, in addition to Frederic Fontana. “Uncle Toni” coached his nephew Nadal from childhood and was a part of his team until stepping away in 2017.
It will be the second ATP Head2Head meeting between the pair, but the first since Toni joined the Canadian team in 2021. Nadal claimed a 6-3, 6-3 victory in their previous meeting in Madrid in 2019.
“I already talked with Toni after my match,” Nadal said. “For me, it’s very simple. He’s my uncle. I don’t think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt, but he’s a professional and he’s with another player. I don’t know what’s going to happen if he’s going to stay in the box or not, but I don’t care. I have zero problems with that. So it’s not a story at all for me.
“I know the feeling that we have between each other. I know he wants the best for me. Now he’s helping another player. But honestly, for me, it’s zero problems, and I know he wants the best for me.”
Should Nadal and Novak Djokovic both win on Sunday, they will meet for the 59th time in the quarter-finals in what would be a rematch of their 2021 semi-final, won by the Serbian en route to the title.
Nadal, who opened the 2022 season at a personal-best 20-0, won three hard-court titles to begin the year but is seeking his first clay trophy since Rome last May. He won a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and can move two titles clear of Djokovic and Roger Federer by claiming No. 22 in Paris.
Despite missing the start of the European clay swing with a rib fracture, Nadal leads the Pepperstone ATP Race To Turin ahead of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Carlos Alcaraz, with Auger-Aliassime sitting fourth.
“He’s one of the players in better shape on the Tour, without a doubt,” Nadal added of his opponent. “It’s a Round of 16 [match]. I know I have to play at a very high level to have chances to keep going. [It is] going to be a good test. In some way, that’s what I need.”