Seventeen years ago, Rafael Nadal played the Roland Garros semi-final against world no. 1 Roger Federer on his 19th birthday. Almost two decades later, Rafa will play on his birthday again, facing Alexander Zverev in a battle for a place in his 14th Roland Garros final.
Thus, Rafa becomes the third 36-year-old player in the Roland Garros semi-final after Pancho Gonzalez in 1968 and Roger Federer in 2019. The Spaniard has won 110 out of 113 matches at his beloved Major, hoping for another title chase on Sunday if he beats a formidable opponent on Friday.
Despite all the issues with his foot, Nadal has played well in Paris so far, beating five rivals to enter the last four and earn another age milestone. The veteran kicked off his 18th Roland Garros campaign with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Jordan Thompson.
The Aussie stood no chance against a great champion, who controlled the pace on serve and return to race into the second round. Rafa beat Corentin Moutet 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in the second round on Court Philippe-Chatrier during the night sessions after breaking the rival's serve seven times.
In another similar clash, Nadal ousted Botic Van De Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in two hours and 11 minutes for a place in the last 16, not losing a set so far. Rafa arranged the fourth-round clash against Felix Auger-Aliassime, his first notable opponent in Paris this year.
Nadal prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in four hours and 21 minutes to reach the 16th Roland Garros quarter-final. It was a rare Roland Garros five-setter for the Spaniard, and he could have sealed the deal earlier had he converted more than seven out of 22 break chances.
Rafael Nadal will compete in the Roland Garros semi-final at 36.
Nadal made a fresh start in the decider to overpower the young gun and set the quarter-final clash against Novak Djokovic. It was their 59th encounter on the Tour, and Nadal clinched a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 triumph in four hours and 12 minutes.
Rafa dethroned Novak after a rock-solid performance in sets one and three. He was the more determined player, sticking to his plan and firing almost 60 winners. Nadal broke Djokovic seven times from 17 opportunities and defended eight out of 12 break points.
Despite not playing at his best, Novak could have forced a decider, leading 5-2 in the fourth and creating two set points in game nine. Nadal erased them, broke back and prolonged the set to gain a boost. The Spaniard used it nicely in the tie break, winning it 7-4 after a backhand down the line winner to emerge at the top and celebrate the 110th Roland Garros triumph.