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Nadal advances after beating Djokovic in French Open quarterfinal match

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The king of clay court tennis is at it again. Yesterday at the French Open in Paris, Spain's Rafael Nadal beat his longtime rival Novak Djokovic in a rare quarterfinal meeting. It was a dramatic match, and Nadal keeps winning despite dealing with a potential career-ending injury. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It was the 59th meeting between two 35 year olds, who by the end of their careers - both will be able to claim GOAT status - greatest of all time. Rafa Nadal has won a record 21 Grand Slam singles titles; Novak Djokovic, 20. Yesterday's quarterfinal match would not add to those gaudy totals. But in its intensity, it sure sounded like a championship showdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAFAEL NADAL: (Grunting with exertion).

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: (Grunting with exertion).

(SOUNDBITE OF TENNIS RACKETS HITTING BALL)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Oh, what a shot.

GOLDMAN: The Tennis Channel commentator may as well have put, oh, what a shot, on a loop to cover all the long rallies that ended with something special. Nadal and Djokovic battled more than 4 hours late into the night, with Nadal surging early and then overcoming a big deficit in the fourth set to win a tiebreaker and the match. Both acknowledged it was special to play each other. But Djokovic certainly wasn't happy about losing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DJOKOVIC: You know, I lost to a better player today - had my chances, didn't use them. That's it, you know? Over 4 hours battle, and, you know, I have to accept this defeat.

GOLDMAN: And Nadal wasn't satisfied with winning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NADAL: It's just the quarterfinals match now, so I didn't win anything.

GOLDMAN: But two raised fists and a huge smile after beating his rival showed it meant something because Nadal knows there might not be many more of these moments if the chronic foot pain he's been dealing with in recent months doesn't improve.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NADAL: Of course I'm going to keep fighting to find a solution for that. But for the moment, we haven't. So give myself a chance to play another semifinals here in Roland Garros is a lot of energy for me.

GOLDMAN: Nadal is confident he'll have that energy in his 37th Grand Slam semifinal as he tries to add to his record 13 French Open titles. At the other end of the career spectrum, an up-and-coming player from the U.S. is in her first Grand Slam semi. Eighteen-year-old Coco Gauff beat fellow American Sloane Stephens to move into the women's Final Four in Paris.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIROCRATIC'S "SLEEPYFACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.