x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

French Open: Novak Djokovic soldiers on but Rafael Nadal is all smiles

Birthday cheers for Spaniard Nadal, while world No 1 determined to 'go all the way' to honour the memory of his first coach Jelena Gencic.

The crowd at Roland Garros sang 'Happy Birthday' aloud as Rafael Nadal received a cake on court on his 27th birthday. Caroline Blumberg / EPA
The crowd at Roland Garros sang 'Happy Birthday' aloud as Rafael Nadal received a cake on court on his 27th birthday. Caroline Blumberg / EPA

PARIS // All the complaints about lousy weather, windy courts and rotten schedules were forgotten as the sun finally shone on birthday boy Rafael Nadal's pursuit of a record eighth French Open title.

Nadal spent the first week labelling Paris "too cold", the Philippe Chatrier Court "too windy" and the playing schedule "a joke" after three wobbly performances, but he was all smiles as the mercury finally crept over the 20°C mark for the first time in this year's event.

The Spaniard, bidding to become the first player to win the same major eight times, moved closer to a possible semi-final blockbuster against Novak Djokovic with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 win over Japan's Kei Nishikori.

After the fans serenaded Nadal, who turned 27, with a rendition of happy birthday, he smiled sheepishly as organisers wheeled out a giant four-tier cake decorated with rackets, golden tennis balls and an array of sparklers.

Djokovic was in sparkling form during the final three sets of his clash with Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Kohlschreiber earned the distinction of becoming the first player to win a set off Djokovic at the tournament, but that was as much as the German could get.

Djokovic, who left Roland Garros in tears two days ago after learning about the death of his first coach, Jelena Gencic, kept his emotions in check for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win.

Describing Gencic as his "second mother", Djokovic said her passing strengthened his resolve to win the only grand slam title missing from his collection.

"I feel in her honour that I need to go all the way. It gives me that inner strength to push even harder," the world No 1 said. "It was tough for me today against an opponent who has the qualities to play well on clay. After the first set, I played well. I'm satisfied."

Djokovic ended Nadal's eight-year reign on Monte Carlo clay last month.

After a sputtering first set, Djokovic then found his range and despite his best efforts and a few exquisite drop shots, Kohlschreiber could not disrupt the six-time grand slam champion.

* Agencies