The king of clay Rafael Nadal had a short run on his beloved surface ahead of Roland Garros. Rafa skipped Monte Carlo and Barcelona due to a fractured rib, and he could not play at his best in Madrid and Rome. The Spaniard headed to Paris with only five clay-court matches, and dark clouds gathered over his Roland Garros chances due to a chronic foot injury.
Rafa made a rock-solid start in Paris and defeated three rivals in straight sets to enter the last 16. Felix Auger-Aliassime pushed the 21-time Major winner to the limits before Nadal prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in four hours and 21 minutes.
Thus, Rafa is through into his 16th quarter-final, and he faces world no. 1 and his greatest rival Novak Djokovic next. Nadal was pleased with the win and a place in the last eight, especially after not knowing would he be able to play in Paris.
Still, the Spaniard is realistic about his foot issues, saying that any match could potentially be his last at his beloved Major. Rafa overpowered Felix to remain undefeated in the five-setter clay matches, taking charge when it mattered the most in the decider to avoid only the fourth Roland Garros loss.
Auger-Aliassime became the fourth player who kept Nadal for four hours on the court in Paris and the fourth who stole two sets away from the Roland Garros ultimate champion in a single match after Robin Soderling, John Isner and Novak Djokovic.
Rafael Nadal will face Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros quarter-final.
Still, he did not have enough strength to bring the victory home. Rafa grabbed 17 points more than Felix and overpowered him in the mid-range and most extended exchanges.
Nadal made the difference with the second serve, getting broken five times from nine chances offered to the Canadian while creating no less than 22 break chances! Rafa seized only six, which forced him to stay on the court for almost four and a half hours and lose a lot of energy ahead of the Novak Djokovic clash.
"I know the situation with my physical shape, and I accept it. I can not complain because I'm in the Roland Garros quarter-final. Two and a half weeks ago, I did not know if I would be here, and I will give my everything in the next encounter. I'm aware that every match can be the last one in my career at Roland," Rafael Nadal said.