The overnight break caused by rain on Thursday, certainly gave Rafa Nadal a chance to reassess his game. In addition, the weather conditions had changed in his favour – the previous day’s heavy atmospheric certainly affected his game but Fridays’ brighter and drier conditions now favoured his play against Diego Schwartzman.
Not surprisingly then, the Spaniard came out fighting when play resumed with him trailing by a set but leading 4-3, 30-15 in the second. The set being the first he has lost in Roland Garros in three years!
It was a very difficult match, Diego is a good friend and a good player Rafa Nadal
Within minutes it seemed, he had levelled the match and then proceeded to completely overwhelm his diminutive Argentine opponent to claim the next two and move forward to his allotted place in the draw.
On Thursday’s play, Schwartzman was completely dominated by the world No.1, which was the complete reverse of the previous day’s play when Nadal was scurrying around trying to find an answer to ‘El Peques’ aggression.
The final scoreline speaks for itself as Nadal only allowed him four games during Thursday’s play to secure his 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory after three hours and 42-minutes of play.
But that doesn’t mean Schwartzman capitulated. The score line didn’t do justice to his fighting spirit. And his dogged performance saved three match points before he actually conceded the quarter-final match.
“It was a very difficult match, Diego is a good friend and a good player,” the 16-time Grand Slam champion said as he kept his challenge for an unprecedented 11th French Open title alive.
“After the stop for rain I played more aggressively and I’m very happy to be back in the semi-finals here.”
It is the 11th time the 32-year-old Spaniard has reached the last four at Roland Garros, becoming only the third man in history to achieve that feat at a Grand Slam tournament, the other players being Jimmy Connors at the US Open and Roger Federer at Wimbledon, an achievement he also duplicated at the Australian Open. But Nadal’s cloak of invincibility on clay has been dented. Not only did he lose his Madrid title in the final a few weeks back, he has now dropped a set in his Parisienne Kingdom. Does he feel pressure?
“I don’t have any obligation to win, first thing. Second thing, if you don’t feel the pressure, it’s because you don’t love the sport,” said Nadal, who has never failed to win the title in Paris after reaching the semi-finals.
“Pressure is good. You are able to control that. That pressure, that adrenaline, can be in a positive way.”
On Friday he will face another Argentine, the 6’6” Juan Martin del Potro known as the ‘Tower of Tandil’ who no doubt will be seeking advice from his countryman, now the only player to have made an impact on the Nadal game in Paris.
DelPo downed the third seeded Marin Cilic 7-6(5) 5-7 6-3 7-5 in what was a battle between two former US Open Champions.
Play resumed on a sunny Court Suzanne Lenglen with the towering fifth and third seeds locked at 5-5 in the first set tiebreak after rain had curtailed their high-octane clash on Wednesday.
Del Potro needed only two points to pocket the first set as Cilic blinked first, netting a routine forehand at 5-6.
The second set, like the first, was dominated by serve until Cilic fired himself up to break at 4-4 with a furious Del Potro throwing his racket at the changeover.
But the Croat played an awful game when serving for the set, making four unforced errors, only to be gifted another chance to serve for the set after breaking Del Potro for a second time to level the match.
Del Potro dipped at the start of the third and Cilic had points for a double break but the burly Argentine, roared on by chants of “Delpo Delpo” recovered his drive to hit back from 0-2 to forge ahead for two sets to one lead.
Cilic, bidding to reach the semi-finals for the first time after falling in the last eight 12 months ago, kept his nose in front in the fourth but then buckled at 5-5 sending a backhand long on break point to leave the fifth seed to serve for the match, which he duly did to reach the last four for the second time, nine years after his first visit there.
“It’s tough to speak now,” an emotional Del Potro said. “I’ve been a long time without feeling good with my body. I had surgery three times on my wrist and I was close to quitting this sport. I don’t have words to explain what this means to me and my team.”
The big Argentine has now beaten Cilic, who made 74 unforced errors, eight times in a row, but on Friday he will face arguably the toughest test in tennis against Nadal on Court Philippe Chatrier.
The 29-year-old missed the event for four straight years before a third-round loss in 2017, but has regained fitness in recent months and reached the semi-finals at the US Open last year, where he lost to Nadal.