Paris: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will clash in a French Open quarter-final blockbuster on Wednesday in one of the sport’s most-eagerly awaited clashes of recent times.
World number one and top seed Djokovic eased into the last eight on Monday with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over France’s Richard Gasquet.
Defending champion Nadal, seeking a 10th Roland Garros crown, saw off unseeded American Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.
It was Nadal’s 70th career win at the French Open against just one defeat and his 39th in a row at the tournament he has dominated for a decade.
“It’s the biggest challenge I can have on clay,” said Djokovic, who needs a French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam.
“He’s lost just once here.”
On facing Djokovic, sixth seed Nadal said: “I will have to play my best tennis.
“He’s the world number one and is having a great season. It’ll be a complicated match.”
Nadal beat Djokovic in the 2012 and 2014 finals in Paris as well as the 2013 semi-finals and holds a career 23-20 edge in head-to-head meetings.
But Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite to break that stranglehold this year after claiming a 26th successive win on Monday.
The 28-year-old has lost just twice all year and has not been defeated since February.
Against Gasquet, he was almost unplayable.
He carved out an astonishing 23 break points and was just broken once as his concentration wavered in the third set.
The in-form Serb also fired 47 winners as he reached a 24th successive Grand Slam quarter-final.
Nadal could also have had an easier afternoon.
The Spaniard, who will be 29 on Wednesday when he faces Djokovic, had a match point in the 10th game of the third set before the 22-year-old Sock kept his campaign alive.
But the young American paid a heavy price for his nine double faults and 44 unforced errors.
– Federer, Murray through –
Second seed Roger Federer, the 2009 champion, made the last eight for the 11th time with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over France’s Gael Monfils and goes on to face Davis Cup-winning teammate Stan Wawrinka.
British third seed Andy Murray ended the hopes of another home player, seeing off unseeded Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
He will next take on seventh-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer.
Federer raced through the final two sets on Monday in just over an hour after the last-16 tie was delicately poised at a set apiece when it was suspended in the chilly gloom of Sunday evening.
“I feel fresh and pumped up to be back in the quarter-finals again after missing out last year,” said Federer, who was beaten by Ernests Gulbis in the last 16 in 2014.
Federer will take a 16-2 career advantage over Wawrinka into Tuesday’s quarter-final, including a win on clay in Rome earlier this month.
“It’s special to play Stan, there aren’t many Swiss players in the draw,” said Federer.
Murray, twice a semi-finalist in Paris, will face 2013 runner-up Ferrer for a place in the last four although Chardy, the world number 45, gave him plenty to think about on a rocking Court Suzanne Lenglen.
However, the Frenchman’s temperament let him down at the wrong times as he was broken three times in the fourth set.
Chardy committed 10 double faults and 56 unforced errors.
“He’s a tough player with a big serve and hit some powerful shots. He made it difficult for me,” said Murray, who has now won 14 matches and two titles on clay this year.
Murray has a 9-6 record against Ferrer but the gritty Spaniard has won all of their four meetings on clay including at Roland Garros in the 2012 quarter-finals.
Ferrer recorded his 40th career win at Roland Garros with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Croatian ninth-seeded US Open champion Marin Cilic.
Tuesday’s other quarter-final will see fifth seed Kei Nishikori, the first Japanese man in 82 years to make the quarter-finals, face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the last remaining French player.