French Open 2020: Against Rafael Nadal, conditions may favour Diego Schwartzman

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Mumbai: Diego Schwartzman loves to dance; his social media account is full of videos testifying to his uninhibited passion for it. He loves to post pictures of himself lovingly faux-biting his partner, He loves to laze about with his dogs, play boardgames of PlayStation with his colleagues when on tour, and he loves to play tennis. The man with a boxer’s nose and boy-band smile has been hanging around Grand Slams doing all the stuff he loves to do for what seems like forever.

Schwartzman broke into the top 50 of the ATP world rankings in February 2017. He has never dropped out of it since. He has all of three career ATP titles to show (one each in 2016, 2018 and 2019), but has an overall record of 158-137. He tends to win more than lose. He has played in each of the 23 Grand Slams since the start of the 2015 season, but has only gone as far as three quarter-finals thus far.

This time, it’s a bit different.

On Friday, Schwartzman will play his maiden Major semi-final in his 25th appearance. Perhaps his earlier failures to go beyond the quarters is because he lacks that one standout weapon (serve, forehand, etc.) to blast past his opponents. But he makes up for it with a solid all-round defensive game. It is also why he is likely to provide the toughest challenge in the tournament yet to Rafael Nadal, the defending champion who otherwise seems to be cruising towards a 13th Roland Garros title. Nadal leads Schwartzman 9-1 in their head-to-head record, but the Argentine has previously troubled the king of clay here at Roland Garros.

In 2018, Schwartzman snapped Nadal’s streak of winning 37 consecutive sets in the tournament when he took the first set 6-4. Schwartzman led 3-2 in the second before rain halted the match. It was only after the sun came out that Nadal turned the tide. The cold and damp conditions in this delayed French Open are somewhat similar to when Schwartzman gave Nadal a few headaches in 2018.

Note also that the solitary victory that the world No 14 has registered over the Spaniard came a few weeks ago in Rome, where, again like in Paris, the balls didn’t bounce as high. Schwartzman has also won nine out of his last 10 matches on clay, including the win over Nadal in Rome and over two-time French Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

“Well, I’m not sure because if I see the history, I’m 10-1 (9-1) down,” Schwartzman said with a chuckle when asked about feeling confident of challenging Nadal after beating Thiem in the quarters. “I’m not sure if I’m going to have a lot of confidence. But, yeah, I know this week that I can beat him.”

Also carrying some confidence into his semi-final will be Stefanos Tsitsipas, who faces world No 1 Novak Djokovic. If the 22-year-old Greek was sublime in his straight-sets quarter-final win over Andrey Rublev, the top seed Serb was patchy in form and fitness in beating Pablo Carreno Busta 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 late on Wednesday night. A loose Djokovic committed 41 unforced errors and, more worryingly, showed discomfort with his left arm and neck that seemed to ease only once he received medical attention after losing the first set.

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