PARIS (Reuters) - It should have been the final, it should have had a presentation ceremony at the end — yet the only prize up for grabs for Rafa Nadal or Novak Djokovic is a semi-final place at the French Open.
Yet never before has the stakes been higher for Nadal as he set up what he called the “toughest quarter-final of my career” against old foe Djokovic.
For if he fails to overcome the world number one on Wednesday, his hopes of becoming the first man to win 10 titles at the same grand slam will lie in tatters.
“The winner of the match will not be Roland Garros champion. He will be a semi-finalist... that makes a big difference,” Nadal said looking ahead to their 44th meeting.
“Novak is probably the favorite here but I am here to fight.”
Nadal likes nothing better than a good scrap and 2015 has not exactly been a stellar year by his own high standards — as the Spaniard arrived at Roland Garros without winning a European claycourt event for the first time in a decade.
His on court woes led many to speculate that this could be the year that Nadal is handed only his second defeat in Paris — following the shock Robin Soderling delivered in the fourth round in 2009 — but so far those fears have proved unfounded.
If Jack Sock harbored hopes of following in Soderling’s footsteps, he would have had to break an American jinx stretching back to 2003 — as that was the last time a man representing the Stars and Stripes had reached the last eight at Roland Garros.
Instead Nadal warmed up for a quarter-final blockbuster everyone has been talking about for 10 days by taming the American tyro 6-3 6-1 5-7 6-2.
The omens had looked rather foreboding for Sock even before he stepped on court for the fourth round encounter — with his rival holding an 11-0 win-loss record against Americans on clay.
Sock’s hopes of stalling that run looked all but over within the opening exchanges of the contest when he fell 3-0 behind to the Spanish sixth seed.
The 22-year-old unexpectedly snatched the third set from Nadal but that only delayed the inevitable as the Spaniard became the first man to win a record 70 matches at Roland Garros when he fired down an unreturnable serve.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Justin Palmer