Diego Schwartzman pulled off the biggest upsets of the Rome Masters when he toppled the nine-time champion Rafa Nadal in the quarterfinals, a feat he achieved in straight sets!
For sure it's my best match ever, I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I'm very happy. Diego Schwartzman
The eighth seeded Argentine, one of the smallest players on the circuit who plays with the heart of a lion, stunned the King of Clay 6-2 7-5 to deny the tennis fans the promised final between Nadal and the world number one, Novak Djokovic.
Ironically Djokovic earlier in the day, had to recover from the loss of a set – the he has dropped all week – before progressing past the German qualifier, Dominik Koepfer. 6-3 4-6 6-3.
“It was not my night at all,” exclaimed Nadal, who had won all nine previous meetings against the 28-year-old from Buenos Aires and made no excuses for the loss declaring simply his opponent was the better player on the day.
“He played a great match, not me, when this happens you have to lose,” the 34-year-old Spaniard continued.
“It’s not a moment for excuses. I’ve spent a long time without competing [but] I played two good matches.
“[It was] a super heavy evening in terms of humidity. Conditions out there were much heavier than the previous days in terms of the bounces of the ball. For me [it] was difficult to push him back. He did a great job,” Nadal explained.
“I tried hard in the second, but losing serve three times in a row, then you need to [pray] for a miracle. I did twice, but the third one, even if I was 15/30, was not possible.”
Nadal, who was using the Rome Masters as a warm-up event for the French Open due to kick off on the 27th September, had not played since winning the Acapulco title last February thanks to the coronavirus-enforced beak.
Whilst not making any excuses, he knows what he has to correct before Roland Garros where he is aiming to defend his title and extend his record there to 13 titles.
“Losing as many serves, you can’t expect to win a match, it’s something that I have to fix, I know how to do it,” he revealed.
“It’s a special and unpredictable year, I’ll probably go back home and let’s see.”
Schwartzman, who had never beaten Nadal in their previous nine meetings, faces the 12th seeded Denis Shapovalov for a place in the final, the Canadian having fought his way past Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 3-6 6-2.
“Today I played my best tennis,” said the diminutive Argentine who broke Nadal’s serve five times as Nadal struggled with 30 unforced errors to his own 17.
“For sure it’s my best match ever,” Schwartzman added on reaching his second ATP Masters 1000 semi-final. “I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I’m very happy.”
“It was crazy. Tennis is crazy. Our performance is always crazy. The past three weeks were really bad for me,” Schwartzman said on court after his victory. “Today I played my best tennis. Very similar to Roland Garros against Rafa three years ago and I’m very happy. I was not thinking to beat him really because I was not playing good [lately]. But today I did my best and I’m very happy.”
Looking ahead to his next opponent, the young Canadian Shapovalov, Schwartzman expects another battle. “He’s playing really well since we came back in the U.S. He was playing good. He’s a really good guy… It’s going to be really tough, but I think if I play like today, I’m going to have chances.”
With the favourite in the bottom half of the draw defeated, it leaves Djokovic with a clear run to pull ahead of Nadal in the table of Most Masters won . Currently they both stand on 35.
But it hasn’t been easy going for the Serbian who let his frustrations spill over in a two-hour battle with the German qualifier Dominik Koepfer.
Playing in his first tournament since being defaulted following the unfortunate ball-striking incident which left a lineswoman gasping for breath after being hit in the throat, the Serb again struggled to contain his emotions, throwing his racket after a lost service game while shouting his frustrations.
When Djokovic was broken to love in the sixth game of the second set, he slammed his racket on the court in anger, breaking the frame and making a mess of the strings. Inevitably he picked up a warning from the umpire.
“It’s not the first nor the last racket that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.
“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that — definitely.
“That’s just me. Of course I’m not perfect and I’m doing my best.”
The 97th-ranked Koepfer, who screamed at himself in frustration throughout the match, was also warned for misbehaviour early in the third set.
The 33-year-old next plays Norway’s Casper Ruud who fought for nearly three hours to get past Italian fourth seed Matteo Berrettini 4-6 6-3 7-6(5).
“Clay is definitely Casper’s preferred surface,” said Djokovic who has not played the 34th-ranked Norwegian before.
“This is where he feels most comfortable. It’s semi-finals and it is anybody’s game. I’ll do some homework and be ready for that one.”
And 21-year-old Ruud —son of former player Christian Ruud —made Norwegian tennis history by becoming their first player to reach the last four of a Masters event, topping his father’s best result of last eight at the 1997 Monte Carlo And the youngster is relishing “a great opportunity for me to play against one of the big three”.
Berrettini’s elimination ended home hopes in the tournament and he admitted he missed the energy of the fans which have been banned for the past week. However, Italy’s sports minister announced on Friday that 1,000 spectators will be allowed in for the semi-finals and final. “There would have been a lot more adrenaline with fans,” the disappointed Berrettini, who could have used that support, commented.