Rafael Nadal reached his 13th Roland Garros semifinal early Wednesday, defeating Italian teenager Jannik Sinner in a high-quality clash which ended just before 1:30 in the morning, the latest ever finish at the tournament.
Nadal, the 12-time champion, won 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-1 to clinch his 98th victory in his 100th match at the French Open.
The 34-year-old will now face Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, who knocked out third seeded US Open winner Dominic Thiem, the runner-up in Paris to Nadal in the last two years, for a place in Sunday’s championship match.
It will be Nadal’s 34th semifinal at the majors.
Nadal takes a 9-1 lead over Schwartzman into that match although the Argentine won their most recent clash in Rome on the eve of Roland Garros.
World number 75 Sinner, bidding to become the first man to make the semi-finals on debut since Nadal in 2005, was left to rue his missed chances.
The 19-year-old led with breaks in both of the first two sets, even finding himself just two points away from taking the opener.
“It’s very late so thank-you for staying despite the difficult conditions,” said Nadal to the sparse crowd, all of whom were wrapped up in jackets, hats and scarves as the temperature dropped to 12 degrees (53F).
Nadal, who is just one Slam victory away from equalling Roger Federer’s all-time mark of 20, admitted he had been in a contest unlike his first four matches where he dropped just 23 games.
“It was very tough during the first two sets and especially at the end of the first.
“He was hitting the ball very hard and with the cold, the balls had less lift.”
Sinner had knocked out 11th seed David Goffin and sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev to make the quarter-final.
He was not overawed by his maiden appearance on Court Philippe Chatrier, breaking for a 6-5 lead and was two points from taking the first set off the Spaniard at the tournament this year.
But Nadal unleashed trademark down the line forehands to break back even if the Italian scored a moral victory earlier in the 12th game by coming out on top off a 34-shot rally.
Nadal swept through the tiebreak to end a 72-minute opener with Sinner then having to seek the help of the trainer for a thigh problem as the clock ticked past midnight in the French capital.
Sinner, a champion skier in his youth, kept up the charge, however, breaking first and then holding for a 3-1 lead in the second.
Back came Nadal, retrieving the break in the fifth game, backed up by another for a 5-4 advantage.
Sinner saved a set point but not the second as Nadal made him pay for a couple of loose games.
Suddenly, the spirit drained away from the teenager who was quickly 4-0 down in the third before Nadal completed the formalities.
The world No. 2 finished with 37 winners, six breaks while saving five of the seven breakpoints he faced.