PARIS: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal closed in Friday on a blockbuster clash at the French Open as both reached the last 16, while Carlos Alcaraz prepared to face the only man to beat him on clay this year.
Reigning champion Djokovic and 13-time winner Nadal are on course to meet in the quarter-finals, with the Spaniard seeded outside the top four at Roland Garros for just the second time.
World number one Djokovic strolled to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Slovenia´s Aljaz Bedene and Nadal eased past Dutch 26th seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
"I´m always very motivated when I get on the court, with the desire to produce my best level each time. It´s not always possible to do it, but today it was very good," said Djokovic.
The 35-year-old Serb is aiming to become the oldest men´s singles champion in Paris in the Open era as he chases a record-equalling 21st Grand Slam title.
Next up for Djokovic, who was also French Open champion in 2016, is a match-up with Argentina´s Diego Schwartzman, the 15th seed.
Nadal, the 21-time major champion, improved his record at Roland Garros to 108-3 after seeing off 2021 US Open quarter-finalist Van de Zandschulp.
He has now reached at least the fourth round in 17 of 18 visits to Roland Garros, with the exception of 2016 when he withdrew in the third round with a wrist injury.
"I think I played a good match against a good player. I´m very happy to win," said Nadal.
The Spaniard had a break point for 5-0 in the third set, but Van de Zandschulp refused to roll over, winning four of the next five games before Nadal put away his second match point, having saved a break point in between the two.
"You always feel a little bit the nerves to finish the match, so I´m happy to be through in straight sets," said Nadal, who plays Canadian ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime for a place in the last eight.
In a twist to that clash, Toni Nadal, the uncle and former coach of the Spaniard, is working with Auger-Aliassime.
"I think it was my best match of the tournament so far for two-and-a-half sets, so I´m very happy with that."
Alexander Zverev, the third seed and 2021 semi-finalist, ended the run of American Brandon Nakashima, winning 7-6 (7/2), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).
The German Olympic champion, who saved a match point in round two, next takes on Bernabe Zapata Miralles, the 131st-ranked Spaniard who downed John Isner in five sets.
Amanda Anisimova, the 27th seed and a 2019 semi-finalist, advanced to the last 16 as injury-plagued Karolina Muchova retired down 6-7 (7/9), 6-2, 3-0 after falling and twisting her ankle midway through the second set.
Last year´s US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez beat Olympic champion Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich defeated three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber 6-4, 7-6 (7/5).
Coco Gauff, the youngest player left in the French Open, made the last 16 with a straight-sets win over Kaia Kanepi, the oldest woman in the tournament at 36.
Sloane Stephens, runner-up in 2018, ended the run of French teenager Diane Parry in straight sets, while Swiss 23rd seed Jil Teichmann overcame two-time former Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10/5).
After saving a match point in a thrilling five-setter against countryman Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Spanish teenage star Alcaraz goes up against Sebastian Korda, the US 27th seed who won their meeting in Monte Carlo last month.
"I believe in myself, and of course I work hard every day," said the 19-year-old Alcaraz.
"You have to have a good goal, good dreams. Of course trying to follow your dream. Work hard every day. I think that´s the secret.
"I´m still young, but I would say pretty experienced player now. I feel comfortable playing on the big stadium, big matches, playing in a Grand Slam. As I said, physically I´m strong. Mentally I´m strong, as well."
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