Rafael Nadal won the Roland Garros title for the 13th time in October, saving the season and joining Roger Federer on 20 Major crowns. At 34, Nadal proved his greatness on the slowest surface once again, beating all seven rivals in straight sets and handling all the challenges brought by colder weather and a roof over Court Philippe-Chatrier.
Rafa had to endure three tight sets en route to the title, and the first came against the young Italian Jannik Sinner in the quarter-final. The 19-year-old served for the opening set at 5-5, losing ground and allowing Rafa to win it in the tie break and keep a perfect score in Paris.
Nadal and Sinner hit the court late thanks to a marathon between Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman, finishing their clash at 1:30 am. Praising Sinner's performance, Tim Henman said it could have been a long Parisian night for Rafa had Jannik won that opening set, expecting more significant results from the youngest top-100 player in 2021.
Nadal needed two hours and 49 minutes (he spent eight minutes less on the court against Novak Djokovic in the final) to dismiss the youngster 7-6, 6-4, 6-1, trailing in sets one and two. The Spaniard scored six breaks from eight chances and gave serve away twice, finishing the clash with 37 winners and 33 unforced errors.
Unimpressed with the rival on the other side of the net, Jannik matched Rafa's pace and grabbed the first break at 5-5 to serve for the opening set. Nadal landed two forehand winners to pull the break back in the last moment and prolong the action, taking the tie break 7-4 when Sinner sent a forehand long right after the serve to avoid an early scare.
Jannik Sinner pushed Rafael Nadal to the limits for two sets in Paris.
Jannik still pushed strong in set number two, opening a 3-1 lead before Rafa erased the deficit a few minutes later and locked the result at 3-3. Leading 40-15 at 4-4, Sinner lost four straight points to suffer a break, allowing Nadal to secure the set on his serve and move closer to the finish line.
Carried by this momentum, Rafa broke in the third set's first game thanks to a backhand crosscourt winner and again at 2-0 at love when Jannik sprayed a backhand mistake. The Spaniard sealed the deal with the third break at 5-1, overpowering the youngster and advancing into the semis without losing a set.
"I've been very impressed with Jannik Sinner's progress. His performance against Nadal at Roland Garros was impressive. If Sinner had got that first set under his belt, that could have been a long evening for Nadal.
I look at his game, and I see much room for improvement. And that, I think, is what makes it so exciting, because he is already an excellent player. I think his serve can improve; he can get physically stronger, which will aid his movement. He will gain experience, and we can expect a big year for Sinner in 2021," Tim Henman said.