How Diego Schwartzman Reached His First Grand Slam Semifinal

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Diego Schwartzman outlasted Dominic Thiem to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final at the 2020 French Open. The Argentine prevailed 7-6 (7-1), 5-7, 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 on Philippe Chatrier in a five-hour-and-eight-minute quarter-final marathon.

While Schwartzman had won just a set across his three previous major quarter-final appearances, he went into his fourth attempt playing arguably the best tennis of his career. The world #14 dropped no sets en route to the last eight in Paris and reached the Rome final a week before the tournament.

The Crucial Moments

Given Schwartzman’s record in Grand Slam quarter-finals, winning the first set against a player of Thiem’s stature felt important. He reacted to losing serve (from a Thiem shot called in that Hawk-Eye displayed as well out) by breaking straight back and going on to take the set with a clean tiebreaker.

Thiem then took the next two sets – aided by Schwartzman getting tight at the business end of both. In the third, the Argentine was broken to love as he served at 5-3, before misfiring with a forehand on set point at 5-4. He then narrowly lost the tiebreak and looked to be wavering at 0-2 down in the fourth set.

Schwartzman, though, recovered – only to see a 40-0 triple set point advantage disappear when serving at 5-4. The third of those was saved by an astounding forehand down-the-line winner from Thiem. Schwartzman survived a forehand onslaught from the world #3 to edge a tiebreak and, fittingly, sent the epic contest into a deciding set. The fifth set was, however, comparatively routine. The world #14 was untroubled on serve and broke Thiem twice – with the match ending on a limp drop shot error that encapsulated how physically spent the Austrian was.

The Key Factors

There were questions regarding Thiem being fatigued heading into the match after he struggled in his five-set win against Hugo Gaston in the fourth round. The Austrian also invested so much physically and emotionally to win the US Open just two weeks before the French Open started. Thiem produced a remarkable effort for four sets and four-and-a-half hours but his tank was completely drained by the end. Schwartzman on the other hand did not seem to tire and could have played longer if needed. His physical endurance played a significant part, as many other players might have buckled.

Rally length contributed to the physicality of the match, with 119 of the 374 points played resulting in rallies of nine or more strokes – of which, Schwartzman won 60. There were also 114 rallies of between five and eight shots – Schwartzman winning 62. As well as this, he won 74 of the 141 short rallies (four or fewer strokes).

Schwartzman’s superb returning won him an impressive 46% of points on Thiem’s serve. Tactically, his ability to regularly find Thiem’s backhand with his backhand return, and during rallies, was particularly important. The Argentine’s serve – his weakness – did not let him down either. He won 62% of points behind his first serve (equal to Thiem) and 52% on second serve – to Thiem’s 42%. The fact that Thiem’s average first serve speed dropped to just 104 mph in the fifth set underlines his physical decline.

What Next?

Schwartzman will play either Rafael Nadal or Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals on Friday. He has a 1-9 record against Nadal, but won their last meeting in Rome last month. It would be the world #14’s first meeting with Sinner.

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