Rafael Nadal endured a late start and finish as he booked his spot in the semi-finals of the French Open, seeing off talented Italian teenager Jannik Sinner at 1.30am on Wednesday.
The pair arrived on court at 10.30pm local time after tournament organisers scheduled five matches on Philippe-Chatrier – the tournament’s main show court.
Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman’s five hours and eight minutes battle did little to help what was already a tight schedule and 12-time champion Nadal found himself waiting around until the late hours of Tuesday night before he could get on court.
He and Sinner, a 19-year-old from Italy who boasts tremendous power off both wings, put on a show as the youngster – playing in the main draw of the French Open for the first time – provided the stiffest test for the veteran Spaniard thus far.
In the end, it was Nadal – who has only lost two of 100 matches at Roland Garros – who came through but both set a record for the latest finish in French Open history.
The match could have gone on even longer, with Sinner missing the opportunity to serve out the first set and leading by a break in the second but Nadal ultimately got the job done 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 6-1 in two hours and 49 minutes to set up a meeting with Schwartzman – the 12th seed from Argentina who took US Open champion Thiem out in five sets.
After the contest, Nadal criticised organisers for trying to cram in five matches into the main court schedule and insists the colder October conditions are a ‘little bit dangerous’ for the players.
‘The problem is the weather,’ said Nadal. ‘Having two days in the middle is not a big deal. Of course, it’s not an ideal finish, a match at 1.30am in the morning.
‘But the problem is the weather. Is too cold to play. Honestly, it’s very, very cold to play tennis, no?
‘I know football players plays under these conditions, but it’s a little bit different. They are all the time moving. We stop, we come back, we stop on the changeovers. It is a sport that you are stopped in a lot of moments, no?
‘I think is little bit dangerous for the body to play with these very heavy conditions. But that’s what happened today.
‘I really don’t know why they put five matches on Chatrier today. That was a risk. I saw immediately yesterday when they send me the schedule because there is a chance there is a couple of long matches. That’s what happened. Little bit unlucky, of course.
‘For me, I just tried to be patient, accept everything, and be in a positive shape. That’s what I did.’
Nadal was beaten by his semi-final opponent Schwartzman in the buildup to Roland Garros and he is wary of the threat the diminutive Argentine brings to the table.
‘Of course, it’s a challenge,’ added the world No. 2 from Spain. ‘No, no, when you lost to somebody, it’s because he’s playing well. Today he played an amazing match against one of the best players of the world, without a doubt, especially on this surface.
‘He’s coming with big confidence, no? Two weeks in a row… He’s in the final in Rome, he’s in the semi-finals here. He beat me there. It’s a plus of confidence for him. I know that.
‘I’m going to try to go on court, play my best, try to play my game, play aggressive, try to do something a little bit different than what I did in Rome, of course. I hope to be ready to play my best. That’s what I need. That’s what I am looking for. I going to give my best until the end.
‘I have two days to practise the things that I need to keep improving, and that’s what I going to do.’
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