Ten days before the 2022 French Open started, Rafael Nadal looked no chance to win his 14th title at Roland-Garros.
The 35-year-old was dumped out of the Rome Masters – the traditional French Open warm-up event – by inconsistent Canadian talent Denis Shapovalov in three sets at the round-of-16 stage.
Most concerningly, Nadal hinted at retirement after the match following an aggravation of a foot issue that wiped out most of his 2021 season.
“I hurt my foot again with a lot of pain,” Nadal said after the Shapovalov loss.
“I’m a player living with an injury. It’s nothing new. It’s something that is there, unfortunately. Day by day is difficult.
“Let’s see for how long I can keep going for or until my head tells me otherwise because right now, I must accept my days are like this.”
Instead Nadal – who turns 36 on Friday – is now almost an unbackable favourite to win the French Open and take his tally of 21 career Grand Slam titles to two ahead of Novak Djokovic’s 20.
In a quarter-final worthy of the final, Nadal stunned Djokovic in a four-set match with his work rate and defence, forcing the world no.1 into consistent errors as the Serbian searched for winners on the line to get past his dogged Spanish foe.
There was also no signs of fatigue or injury for Nadal, who played his second consecutive four-hour-plus match after his five-set win against Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round.
With Djokovic out of the way, Nadal now faces a semi-final – on his 36th birthday – against world no.3 Alexander Zverev.
The talented German was underdog prior to dispatching wonderkid Carlos Alcaraz across four sets in his quarter-final, with the Spanish teenager elevating his status in the lead-up to Roland-Garros by defeating Nadal and Djokovic on his way to the Madrid Masters title.
Now that his two biggest threats, Djokovic and Alcaraz, have been eliminated, Nadal will be confident of getting past Zverev, who he has beaten in four out of their five matches on clay.
The level of tennis shown by Nadal to defeat Djokovic would arguably beat any player in the world, with the Spanish veteran chasing down every ball to ultimately frustrate the world no.1 into submission.
If Nadal gets past Zverev into the final, he will face a foe from the bottom half of the draw, which has some surprise contenders after some shock upsets.
World no.2 Daniil Medvedev and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas were dumped out in the fourth round, meaning one of Casper Ruud, Marin Cilic, Andrey Rublev and Holger Rune will make the French Open final, with only Cilic ever featuring in a Grand Slam decider before.
Only Djokovic and Robin Soderling have ever defeated Nadal at the French Open across his 17 appearances at Roland-Garros.
Who has the capability of stopping him from winning the French Open for a 14th time?