Roland Garros hits the business end on Wednesday when World No. 1 Novak Djokovic challenges ninth seed Matteo Berrettini and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal meets Diego Schwartzman, the 10th seed, in the quarter-finals.
Djokovic, who like Nadal is through to his 15th last-eight appearance at the Paris major, showcased his fighting qualities by coming back from two-sets-to-love down against #NextGenATP Lorenzo Musetti on Monday, but the 2016 champion may not be so fortunate with a slow start against another Italian, Matteo Berrettini, in the night session on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
The 25-year-old Berrettini, who was given a walkover in the fourth round by Roger Federer, will do well to remember how he got out-manoeuvred and out-thought in his only previous ATP Head2Head meeting against Djokovic, who won 6-2, 6-1 in just 64 minutes at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals in London. “The most impressive thing that he did was [that] he was returning unbelievably,” said Berrettini in November 2019. “We were playing flat, fast and he was moving better than me… I was nervous, but not in a bad way.”
Back then, Berrettini had just entered the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and although he has missed two months of this season — due to a hernia/groin injury — the Italian has bounced back with a 13-3 record, including his fourth ATP Tour title at the Belgrade Open (d. Karatsev) and a run to his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Mutua Madrid Open (l. to Zverev).
Berrettini, who also helped Italy reach the ATP Cup final in February, has dropped one set in his three matches en route to his first Roland Garros quarter-final, striking 42 aces in seven hours of court time. Djokovic, in contrast, has played more than nine hours across four matches in Paris, having come into the major on the back of his 83rd career title, which he lifted on home soil at the Serbia Open (d. Molcan).
Djokovic, with a 23-3 record on the season that includes a ninth Australian Open crown, won’t take Berrettini lightly. On Monday, the Serbian superstar said, “[He has a] big serve, big forehand – two big weapons. He’s in form. He finished the last year very strong. He started this year strong as well, beating Dominic Thiem in Australia, playing [a] really good ATP Cup. He just has so much firepower in his game. [I will] need to be at [my] best in order to have a chance to win.”
Schwartzman On Nadal Challenge: ‘You Have To Think About Winning’
The victor will face Nadal, who has compiled an outstanding 104-2 match record since his Roland Garros debut in 2005, or last year’s semi-finalist Schwartzman.
Schwartzman earned what he calls the biggest win of his career against Nadal last year at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, but three weeks later fell to 1-10 in their ATP Head2Head series with his loss to the Spanish superstar in the French capital.
Nadal admitted last year in Paris that he had “tried to go on court with a plan, with the right determination… To win against Diego, you have to work a lot and you have to play well for such a long time.”
The 35-year-old Nadal, who has compiled a 22-3 record this year, came into the tournament with two clay crowns at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Tsitsipas) and in Rome (d. Djokovic).
Schwartzman has found his clay feet in Paris. He has yet to drop a set in victories over Yen-Hsun Lu, Aljaz Bedene, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Jan-Lennard Struff at Roland Garros, having come in with a 2-5 record on European clay. In March, the World No. 10 beat Francisco Cerundolo for his fourth ATP Tour title at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires.