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Novak Djokovic has been warned that Rafael Nadal is unstoppable on the French Open centre court when in the mood he found himself in to defeat Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday.
Nadal booked his 14th career Roland Garros semi-final by overcoming the 10th-ranked Argentine 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
The Spaniard was under real pressure against Schwartzman after losing the second set as the South American produced some top-level tennis.
But the ‘King of Clay’ went to another level in front of 5,000 fans in Paris to set up a potential semi-final battle with Djokovic on the red dirt.
The 13-time French Open champion will watch the world No 1 face Matteo Berrettini keenly this evening with the Italian the fresher of the pair after being given a walkover into the last eight courtesy of Roger Federer’s withdrawal.
Meanwhile Djokovic had to battle back from two sets down to beat Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti who was forced to retire in the fifth set at 6-7 (7-9), 6-7 (2-7), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0.
Yet the 18-time Grand Slam winner will be the favourite against ninth seed Berrettini regardless as he looks to set up a repeat of the 2020 French Open final, which he lost in straight sets to Nadal.
But Fabrice Santoro, the French former tennis player who won two Grand Slam doubles titles, reckons with Nadal playing at the level he produced to down Schwartzman, Djokovic stands little chance.
Asked if he believed Schwartzman could shock Nadal, Santoro said on ITV4: “Yes because Diego Schwartzman was playing an unbelievable match. He was leading many rallies.
“At one point he won 17 points over nine shots and Rafa only eight. That’s very unique on Court Philippe-Chatrier. I thought, ‘Oh maybe we’ll have a very big upset today.’ Then another Rafa starts to play.
“He just opened the turbo at 4-3 in the third. He was a new player with a new energy from that moment, 4-3 Schwartzman in the third until the end of the match.
“They played 44 points and Rafa won 37. Nobody can resist that. It’s not that Schwartzman played bad, it was just winner, winner, forehand, backhand, from every part of the court.”
He added: “I think at one point Rafa was worried because Diego was playing at such a high level on the court. Diego was at the quarter-finals without losing a set, he was confident and he was fresh physically.
“He was bringing some new options on the court. But at one point, I had a feeling that Rafa said, ‘OK, now that’s enough. I’m ready. I’m going to show you that I play at home.’
“What Rafa brought to the court in the last 35 minutes, nobody can resist that. Nobody. I think even a great Novak Djokovic will not be able to play at such a high level on this court against Rafa.”
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Santoro expects a “special” showdown between Djokovic and Nadal should the Serbian get past Berrettini to set up a 58th career clash between the pair.
He continued: “If he was watching that match, Novak, he’d probably fairly expect that Diego will win the quarter-final. I don’t know if he watched the first two sets or the last one, because it was a completely different Rafa.
“The perception for Novak Djokovic is probably very different. If they play on Friday, they know each so well and have played so many times around the world, it’s always a special battle.”
Nadal is looking to win a 21st Grand Slam and his 14th at Roland Garros, knowing victory against Djokovic or Berrettini and then a defeat of Stefanos Tsitsipas or Alexander Zverev in the final will see him overtake Roger Federer for the most majors of all time in the men’s game.
Nadal and Djokovic only last met last month in the Italian Open final in Rome with the Spaniard winning 7–5, 1–6, 6–3.
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