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After midnight: Nadal beats Sinner for 13th French Open semifinal

Add “latest-finishing match” and “13 semifinals reached” to the considerable roster of French Open records owned by Rafael Nadal.

The 12-time champion at Roland Garros withstood an early challenge from 19-year-old Jannik Sinner and pulled away to win 7-6(4) 6-4 6-1 in a quarterfinal that ended at nearly 1:30 am on Wednesday on a windy night with the temperature in the low 50s (teens Celsius).

Competition can continue that deep into the night in Paris this year because it’s the first time artificial lights are being used for play at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.

“Of course it’s not ideal (to) finish a match at 1:30 in the morning. But the problem is the weather. It’s too cold to play. Honestly, it’s very, very cold to play tennis, no?” Nadal said, calling it a “little bit dangerous for the body play with these very heavy conditions”.

Their quarterfinal began after 10:30 pm on Tuesday. It was the last match of the day on a packed schedule at Court Philippe Chatrier, which included five contests instead of the usual four because one was postponed by rain a day earlier. And Nadal-Sinner also was delayed by No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman’s five-hour, five-set victory over No. 3 Dominic Thiem.

“I really don’t know why they put five matches on Chatrier today,” said Nadal. “That was a risk.”

No. 2 Nadal, who hasn’t lost a set in the tournament, will take a 9-1 head-to-head edge against Schwartzman into their meeting in Friday’s semifinals.

“Two days to practice, to rest a little bit and to recover, and just try to be ready,” said Nadal.

Schwartzman has this going for him: He won their most recent matchup, beating Nadal last month on clay at a tune-up in Rome.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to have a lot of confidence,” Schwartzman said, “but, yeah, I know … that I can beat him. That’s important.”

Nadal is trying to win a 13th French Open title and 20th Grand Slam trophy overall, which would equal Roger Federer’s mark for men.

Among the many statistics that stand out about Nadal’s track record in Paris: He is 98-2 at the place, which includes 24-0 in semifinals and finals.

For the 75th-ranked Sinner, this was his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Consider this: Nadal turned pro in 2001, the year Sinner was born. Nadal made his French Open debut in 2005, turned 19 during the tournament, beat Federer in the semifinals and won the trophy.

No one since then had made it to the men’s quarterfinals at Roland Garros during his first appearance until Sinner this year. And he showed some of the groundstroke power and good footwork that helped eliminated US Open runner-up Alexander Zverev and 11th-seeded David Goffin earlier in the tournament.

“Sinner is a very, very young talent with a lot of power. Great shots. For two sets, (it was) tough,” said Nadal.