Novak Djokovic surpasses Rafa Nadal in eye-catching French Open feat

Few would have expected Rafa Nadal's peerless record at Roland Garros to ever be challenged - enter Novak Djokovic.

Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal.
Novak Djokovic has surpassed Rafa Nadal for the most French Open quarterfinal appearances, having won his way to a 17th top eight. Pictures: Getty Images

Novak Djokovic has seized an unlikely record from longtime rival Rafa Nadal at the French Open after making it to the quarter-finals of the French grand slam. Djokovic will face Karen Khachanov in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, the 17th time he's made it that far in the tournament.

Nadal, a champion at the French Open a record 14 times, is absent from the tournament this year after being forced to undergo surgery as he continues to recover from an injury suffered back at the Australian Open at the start of the year. In his absence, Djokovic has been making hey at Roland Garros.

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By progressing to the quarters for the 17th time, Djokovic has actually surpassed Nadal for the most quarter-finals contested at the French Open, an eye-popping stat. Victory in the grand slam would also see the Serbian superstar break the tie with Nadal for the most men's grand slam victories.

Only twice, in 2005 and 2009, has Djokovic failed to make the quarter finals at the French Open. Similarly, Nadal has only missed the quarterfinals at the French Open twice, in 2009 and 2016, and of the 16 times he has made the quarterfinals, he's been beaten by Djokovic.

"Well, I'm proud of it, but my attention is already on the next match," said Djokovic about the latest landmark. "I know what my goal is here. I'm trying to stay, mentally, the course and of course not look too far."

Nadal is expected to be sidelined for the rest of the year after having surgery over the weekend in an effort to address the hip injury that has dogged him since January. Djokovic says he's hoping to see Nadal back on the court sooner rather than later.

"I really hope that his rehabilitation process can go well and that we can see him next season," he said. He's so important for our game, on and off the court, one of the greatest legends of tennis in the history of the game," Djokovic said.

"We want to see a healthy Rafa, no question about it."

Noavk Djokovic powering through French Open as Alcaraz shines

In Nadal's stead another Spaniard, Carlos Alcaraz, has set about adding to his own burgeoning trophy collection after his first grand slam victory at the US Open last year. The 20-year-old entered the French Open as the World No.1, however Djokovic, currently ranked third, would once again seize the top spot if he wins it all at Roland Garros.

Alcaraz extended his grand slam winning streak to 11 matches — he won the US Open in September, then missed the Australian Open in January with a leg injury — by beating Lorenzo Musetti 6-3 6-2 6-2. But the Spaniard will face a bigger test next against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was a 7-5 6-3 6-0 winner over Austrian Sebastian Ofner.

Tsitsipas reached the final here two years ago, but Alcaraz has won all four of their previous meetings. "We have played great matches," said Alcaraz.

"I won every match that we have played. But it doesn't mean that I'm going to win every match that we are going to play. I have to be really focused. He's a really tough opponent."

Carlos Alcaraz plays a backhand at the French Open.
Carlos Alcaraz is through to the French Open quarterfinals, where he will face Stefanos Tsitsipas. (Photo by Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The No.3 seed Djokovic, meanwhile, has reached this far for the 14th time in a row at the French Open and for the 55th time overall at all majors. Roger Federer, who retired with 58, is the only man to reach more.

Djokovic takes an 8-1 head-to-head mark into Tuesday's meeting with Khachanov, who followed up his tough win over Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis by defeating Lorenzo Sonego 1-6 6-4 7-6 (9-7) 6-1. Against the 94th-ranked Varillas, it was a no-drama showing in under two hours from Djokovic, who hasn't ceded a set yet through four matches.

He's had his less-than-amiable back-and-forths with some spectators over the past week in Paris, but when this one ended, Djokovic gestured as though to hug everyone as he heard some chants of his two-syllable nickname, "No-le!"

"You always want to receive that love from the crowd," Djokovic said. "Of course I felt great."

With AAP

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