Monday 19 February 2018

Relentless Nadal moves closer to semi-final collision with Djokovic

Rafa Nadal returns a ball during his fourth round match yesterday with his compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut. Photo: Getty
Rafa Nadal returns a ball during his fourth round match yesterday with his compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut. Photo: Getty

Ossian Shine

Rafa Nadal returned to Roland Garros after his birthday celebrations and showed no signs of slowing up, railroading compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in the fourth round.

In yet another ominous performance, Nadal destroyed his opponent on Court Suzanne Lenglen to move into the quarter-finals and one step closer to a 10th Roland Garros crown.

Nadal, who turned 31 on Saturday and celebrated with two cakes, will next face another Spaniard, Pablo Carreno Busta, for a place in the semi-finals.

The supreme claycourter, Nadal has managed to lift his level even higher this year. So far he has lost just 20 games - a record only bettered by the 19 he lost in 2012.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic remains on course to face Nadal in the semi-finals after outclassing claycourt specialist Alberto Ramos-Vinolas 7-6(5) 6-1 6-3.

He will next face in-form Austrian, Dominic Thiem, the sixth seed, in a rematch of last year's semi-final.

The second seed, with new coach Andre Agassi absent from the stands, was too good for the Spanish 19th seed.

The Serb, bidding to become the first man in the professional era to win each of the four grand slams twice, found some resistance in the first set with the third game lasting 13 minutes before Djokovic won it.

Meanwhile, reigning women's champion Garbine Muguruza had to leave her press conference in tears yesterday following a feisty encounter with French No 1 Kiki Mladenovic.

After a strong fight, the Spaniard Muguruza was eliminated in three sets against the home favourite - 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 - and later complained about the conduct of the partisan French crowd.

According to reports on social media, one so-called fan had told her to"f*** off back to Venezuela".


"The crowd today was a little bit tough for me," said Muguruza. "I understand [but] I just think that they should be a little bit more respectful. We had to stop. The chair umpire has to always calm the crowd down. I'm not here to create enemies. I mean, I love playing here. It's not a good feeling."

Since arriving in Paris, Muguruza has been looking to reprise the punishing baseline hitting that carried her to this title last year, but yesterday she kept on botching the final put-away. In reply, Mladenovic coughed up no fewer than 16 double faults, but her defence was robust and her forehand was a weapon throughout.

Muguruza was asked after the match about the cries of "forza" - Italian for "come on" - which Mladenovic had uttered after some of her opponent's errors. That was the moment when Muguruza broke down, and had to leave the interview room for a minute or two to compose herself.

When she returned, she was asked again whether the "forza" calls had been annoying, and replied: "No, I think she speaks like 25 languages, I heard." Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki moved a step closer to erasing an unwanted footnote from the list of her tennis achievements with victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the French Open fourth round.

The 6-1 4-6 6-2 victory eased Wozniacki into the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, matching her best performance here in 2010.

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