Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic Advance at French Open, Remain On Track For Potential Semifinal Collision

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both cruised through their third-round matches Saturday at the French Open and remain on track for a potential collision in the semifinals on Friday.

Only one of them can reach next Sunday’s final.

Last October, Nadal destroyed Djokovic in straight sets to win his 13th French Open crown and record-tying 20th major title.

Djokovic, the world No. 1 and 18-time major champion, rolled to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania in 1 hour, 32 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The 34-year-old is now through to the fourth round in Paris for a record 12th consecutive year — breaking a tie with Nadal and Roger Federer (11 each between 2005-2016). Djokovic will next face 19-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who earned a five-set win over fellow Italian Marco Cecchinato earlier in the day.

“We [have] never faced each other, but we did practise this season on this surface, a couple of times in Monte-Carlo, and other tournaments,” said Djokovic, looking ahead to his meeting against Musetti. “I really like how he plays.

“He’s got a lot of firepower from both [his] forehand and backhand. He can play with a lot of spin. He’s got great feel [and] comes to the net. He can play short balls, drop shots. He can flatten out his serve. He can open up with a good kick and slice. He’s really got [an] all-around game.

“He is a big challenge to me. So there is no question I have to go out playing [at] a high level, because he will not have much to lose. I’m sure he’s going to come out and really try to play [the] tennis of his life one of the two big courts.”

Djokovic, the 2016 French Open champion, is the only active player to defeat Nadal at the French. But he will have to win two more matches to get another chance at his longtime rival.

He improved to 23-3 in 2021. He struck 30 winners and lost just five of his first-service points (37/42) for his fourth straight ATP win over Berankis.

Djokovic won 20 of the first 28 points and it wasn’t until 23 minutes of play that Berankis held serve. Djokovic struck his 11th winner to complete the opener, then showcased great flexibility in the fifth game of the second set for another service break.

Djokovic, who is in Federer’s quarter of the draw, won five straight games from 5-4 up in the second set and came within one point of a 5-0 lead in the third set, but the Serbian over-hit a forehand.

So far this season, Djokovic has captured his ninth Australian Open over Daniil Medvedev in February and last week clinched the 83rd title of his career at the Belgrade Open. He also lost to Nadal in the Italian Open final.

The No. 3-seeded Spaniard took another step toward his record-extending 14th Roland Garros title and record-setting 21st Grand Slam crown by taking out Cam Norrie of England 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

He improved to 103-2 at Roland Garros and reached the fourth round of a major for the 50th time, joining Federer and Djokovic as the only players to do so.

Nadal, 35, will next face Italian sensation Jannik Sinner for a spot in the quarterfinals. Nadal beat Sinner a year ago in three sets in the quarterfinals en route to the title.

Nadal has now won 32 consecutive sets the French Open dating back to the second set of his 2019 championship victory against Dominic Thiem.

(The ATP contributed.)

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