- Nadal battled back from a set down to beat Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in their rain-interrupted quarter-final
- It is the 11th time the 32-year-old Spaniard has reached the French Open last four
- “It was a very difficult match, Diego is a good friend and a good player,” said Nadal
Rafael Nadal. (AFP Photo)
ALSO READ: Del Potro powers past Cilic to set up Nadal clash
Diego Schwartzman, who started their French Open quarter-final clash in blistering fashion on Wednesday, faltered when the sun came out on Thursday. Safe to say, for the time being at least, the 5 ft 7′ Argentine doesn’t know.
The world No.1 Spaniard – who lost a mere four games in the two-sets-and-a-bit after play resumed in dry and happier conditions, some 17 hours later – powered to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win.
In Friday’s last-four clash, his 11th, the 32-year-old going for La Undecima will play the fifth-seed Juan Martin del Potro, who edged out Croat Marin Cilic 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. The other semifinal will pit the seventh-ranked Dominic Thiem against Novak Djokovic’s conqueror, Italian, world no.72 Marco Cecchinato.
Nadal, who struggled with the conditions on a rain-marred day, trailed by a set and a break when play was halted for the first time. Schwartzman, the world No.12, who came out swinging, may have had a better look at his lead in the locker room. Suffice to say that the defending champion, who despite the bleak conditions, looked distinctly sorted when he returned to the Philippe-Chatrier court. Nadal then won three consecutive games from 2-3, breaking twice, and serving for the set at 5-3 (30-15) when the skies opened up again.
“The stop helped because I was able to think, to calm down and to see things with more clarity,” Nadal said. “He was playing great and I was playing too defensive. I was playing too behind the baseline, he was taking the ball earlier than me. After that I increased the intensity. I won a little bit of court, playing closer to the baseline.”
Schwartzman, however, came up with a hazy clue, a pointer of sorts. The day to beat Nadal was definitely Wednesday.
“It’s always tough against Rafa. Yesterday I was doing many winners, not many unforced errors. He was not playing his best tennis. Maybe was the day when you can beat Rafa was yesterday (Wednesday). Today he start playing totally different. Aggressive, doing winners, no mistakes,” Schwartzman said.
There was, however, one man at Roland Garros, who had an answer to the quiz query that stretched beyond theory and possibilities. Courtesy that round-of-16 win in 2009. Robin Soderling is the name. One of only two players to beat Nadal at Roland Garros.
“To beat him on clay, and then to beat him in best-of- five sets on clay is even more difficult,” the Swede, who was forced to quit tennis after being laid low by mononucleosis, said. “The only chance for any player is to be really aggressive. It’s an extremely difficult task, you have to take a lot of risks.”
Soderling, 33, who made back-to-back finals at Roland Garros in 2009 and 2010, applauded the Spaniard’s charge almost a decade on from that shock result. “Winning here 10 times, and now he’s the favorite again, has a chance to win 11 times. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “What I’m really impressed of is, even though he won it 10 times, he’s here to win 11 times. He looks almost as hungry or even hungrier than when he won it the first time. He didn’t lose any motivation at all.’
Soderling, who was ranked No.4 at his peak, wished he could’ve quit tennis on his own terms. But quickly added that he doesn’t miss the pressure of competition.
Nadal, however, embraced it. “I don’t have any obligation to win. Secondly, if you don’t feel the pressure, it’s because you don’t love the sport and if you don’t love the sport is better to come back home and do another thing,” the Mallorcan muscleman said. “Pressure is part of the sport. I don’t feel the pressure now in the semifinals. I feel the pressure every day, I feel the pressure in every match of the year.”