June 20, 2021

jostled by Schwartzman, Nadal climbs to the semi-finals

When the announcer of Roland-Garros, Marc Maury, unrolled the prize list of the master of the premises, Wednesday, June 9, the 5,000 spectators authorized since the same day to fill the stands of the Philippe-Chatrier court reserved Rafael Nadal an ovation which he had not received for two years. The “Rafa, I love you” and the “Rafa the king” accompanied this litany “Almost longer than the match itself”, as some of his fellows preferred to laugh.

After a year and a half of the pandemic, we had almost forgotten the effect of «Ohhhhhhhhhh» and «Ahhhhhhh» spectators amazed by the spectacle before their eyes. If the half-empty boxes hadn’t missed anyone, the referee’s announcements in an attempt to calm a dissipated crowd had almost succeeded in being desired.

Eight months after failing in the semifinals on the same central court in an autumn version, the Argentinian Diego Schwartzman (seeded No.10) did better against the No.3 world: he managed to stand up to him and even to take a set from him. But the bottom line is the same. Winner in four sets (6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0), the Spaniard will face Novak Djokovic or Matteo Berrettini on Friday for a place in the final.

Far from being dazzling despite his fluorescent yellow t-shirt, Nadal commits very unusual mistakes at the start of the game, especially on the backhand side. Fortunately for him, Diego Schwartzman is completely harmless on his faceoffs (58% of first balls).

Despite a lack of realism – only two converted break points, out of seven occasions in the first set alone – this is enough. Apart from a few well-felt blows – including a lob and a slew of long backhands -, the Argentinean too often makes a mistake, repelled by the onslaught of his opponent, whose lift spurts over his shoulders.

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Accumulation of air holes

Schwartzman compensates for his pocket size (1.68 m) with his speed, his glance and his sense of anticipation. From the start of the second set, he seizes Nadal’s service, takes the Mallorcan in his own trap, eventually cracking him in the exchange from the baseline before going up to the net. He confirms his lead in stride to break away 3-0.

Since the start of the tournament, the Spaniard has experienced a few air holes several times. Two third set balls to be erased against Australian Alexei Popyrin in the first round, a flamboyant 5-2 to 5-5 return from Richard Gasquet in the second round of the second round. This was again the case in his start of the round of 16 against Jannik Sinner, where he had to break in extremis while the Italian served to win the first round.

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