Nadal claims marathon

PARIS, June 1 (Xinhua) -- Rafael Nadal secured his 15th semifinals appearance after edging archrival Novak Djokovic in an epic quarterfinals clash in the early hours of Wednesday.

The No.5 seed won a breathtaking tiebreak in the fourth set to wrap up the victory in four hours and 12 minutes at 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4).

The win helped the King of Clay improve his record against the Serbian to 29-30, and a dominating 8-2 at Roland Garros. They have played more than any other two men have played each other in the sport's professional history.

"Of course, we have a lot of history together. A lot of important moments playing against each other. In that case, it's always a special match play against Novak," said Nadal, who is seeking a record-extending 14th French Open title, and 22nd for Grand Slam.

The 35-year-old has lost just three of his 113 matches on the clay major, of which Djokovic is responsible for two.

Djokovic, after losing the first set 6-2, bounced back in the second, during which he erased a double-break deficit to take the set in 88 minutes. But the third turned out to be a repeat of the first.

"He was the better player in the important moments," said Djokovic, who defeated Nadal in last year's semifinals before winning his second French Open.

The top seed squandered a 5-2 lead in the fourth set, only to see the Spaniard claw back to complete a crucial break in the ninth game and take the set into the tiebreak.

With the emotional crowds chanting his name "Rafael, Rafael, Rafael," Nadal surged to a 6-1 lead in the tiebreak and converted his fourth match point to finalize the victory.

Next for Nadal is third seed Alexander Zverev, who overcame sensational Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in another dramatic clash earlier on Tuesday.

The German needed to dig deep to hold off Alcaraz's fight-back in the third set to secure the win 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7) after three hours and 18 minutes.

"I think Carlos is one of the best players in the world right now. It seems quite impossible to beat him. But I knew that I had to play my absolute best from the first point on," said Zverev, who celebrated his maiden Grand Slam win over a top 10 opponent.

The 19-year-old Alcaraz landed at Roland Garros as one of the title favorites due to his impressive campaign at the Madrid Open earlier in May, when the Spaniard went all the way into the final by defeating Djokovic and Nadal, and then sealed his first clay-court ATP Masters title with a straight-set win over Zverev.

But this time, the episode reversed.

The 25-year-old German used his big serve to give pressure on his young opponent who committed 56 unforced errors.

Zverev took the opener with the only break in the fifth game and surged to a 5-3 lead in the second. Alcaraz tried to improve his play but missed on a break opportunity in game 10, which handed the chance to Zverev to close it out for a two-set advantage.

The sixth seed Alcaraz enjoyed tremendous support from the local fans, who encouraged him to fight back and it did work in the third set and the early stage of the fourth.

But Zverev would not let the match go in that way, he restored his form in a high-quality tiebreak, with both players hitting a series of stunning winners. Zverev netted on his first match point but quickly brought up a second, which he took with a thunderous backhand return. ■

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