French Open: Nadal stays on course for possible Djokovic clash in quarters

Spain's Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Netherland's Botic Van De Zandschulp during their men's singles match on day six of the Roland-Garros Open tennis tournament at the Court Suzanne-Lenglen in Paris on Friday. Photo: AFP/ Anne-Christine Poujoulat

Rafa Nadal hammered Dutch 26th seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3 6-2 6-4 in the French Open third round on Friday to remain on course for a potential mouth-watering showdown against world number one Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

Nadal has 13 Roland Garros titles among his 21 majors -- the highest among men -- but the Spaniard was denied last year when he went down in the semifinals to eventual champion Djokovic.

Around the same time on nearby Court Philippe Chatrier, the Serb also put on a prolific display to book his spot in the fourth round with a 6-3 6-3 6-2 win over Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene to stay in the hunt for a record-equalling 21st major.

While Djokovic will next meet Argentine Diego Schwartzman, Nadal will take on Canadian ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime before their potential clash in the last eight. Van de Zandschulp began the match on a strong footing, breaking Nadal's serve in the first game, but the Spaniard's delivery looked almost impregnable for the remainder of the contest on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

In his first career meeting against the Dutchman, Nadal dictated terms from way behind the baseline, absorbing his opponent's power and then bringing out his venomous forehand when required.

Van de Zandschulp, currently at a career-high ranking of 29th, staged a brief fightback in the third set when he won three games in a row from 4-0 down but Nadal, who will turn 36 next week, had the cushion to not be threatened.

Nadal broke the 26-year-old's service twice in each of the three sets, hit 25 winners while keeping a lid on his unforced errors. The left-hander closed out the contest with an overhead smash down the middle on his second match point.

"I had my chance with a break point for 5-0 then match was over but he made a great second serve," Nadal said on court.

"Then I played a bad game with my serve and he started to play aggressive and you feel a bit of nerves to finish the match. Straight sets, it was my best match of the tournament for two sets and a half."

Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene. Photo: AFP/ Christophe Archambault


Djokovic blazes past Bedene
Top seed Novak Djokovic powered past Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia 6-3 6-3 6-2 on Friday to advance to the French Open fourth round and stay firmly on course to challenge for a record-equalling 21st Grand Slam win.

The 35-year-old world number one, who was on the court for less than two hours. "It's not possible to play perfectly but to strive to play close to perfection," Djokovic said in an on-court interview.

"I want to play my characteristic game, my aggressive game. It is not always possible but today it was very good."

Bedene, ranked 195th in the world after an eight-month layoff and a return to action in March, was no match for Djokovic's power and near-flawless service games.

The Serb wasted three break points at 2-1 in the first set but he quickly got another chance to breeze through it in just over 30 minutes. He got two more breaks in the second to clinch it as quickly as the first with Bedene failing to carve out a single break chance throughout the match, and winning just five points on Djokovic's serve in the first two sets.

The third set went in similar fashion with Djokovic breaking early and Bedene, who made twice as many unforced errors as his opponent, failing to respond before the Serb wrapped up proceedings when the Slovenian sunk a forehand into the net after an hour and 44 minutes.

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