There is an aura of invincibility at the French Open when Rafael Nadal steps on to Court Philippe Chatrier. In his Round of 16 clash against Italian teen Jannik Sinner, he let the youngster sniff at the prospect of taking a set when the 19-year-old was serving for the set at 5-3. But, at Roland Garros, against Rafael Nadal, it is one thing to serve for the set and totally another to win it. Sinner learned this lesson the hard way for the 2nd consecutive year. Last year he served at 6-5 in the opening set of the quarterfinal on a cold autumn night.
French Open Quarterfinal Preview
After a slow start, Rafael Nadal showcased some of his vintage skills in the 2nd and 3rd sets to reach his 15th quarterfinal at the French Open. He overcame the fast-rising teenager 7-5 6-3 6-0 in two hours and 17 minutes. With his straight-sets victory over Sinner, Nadal has now won 35 consecutive sets at Parisian Clay and appears to have gathered steam as he enters the business end of the tournament with the prospect of winning his record-breaking 21st Major come this Sunday.
On Wednesday the 35-year-old faces another clay-court specialist and familiar foe in Diego Schwartzman. Coming into Roland Garros this year, the Argentine did not have a great season on clay. But on the grandest stages of all, the 28-year-old appears to have peaked just at the right time. Just like Nadal, the Argentine is yet to drop a set at this year’s French Open. He secured a hard-fought, straight sets victory 7-6(9) 6-4 7-5 against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff to book a quarterfinal berth at Roland Garros, just for the 3rd time in his career.
Rafael Nadal vs Diego Schwartzman
On the ATP tour so far, Nadal comprehensively leads Schwartzman 10-1 overall and 5-1 on clay. The Spaniard was dominant in their last meeting. The duo locked horns in the French Open semifinal last year, and Nadal cruised to a straight-sets victory 6-3 6-3 7-6(0).
Last year at the French Open saw autumn and cold conditions. After having lost to Schwartzman at Rome Masters, the event that preceded Roland Garros in a pandemic-altered schedule, Nadal appeared to be vulnerable and circumspect coming into the semifinal clash against the Argentine. The story this year is altogether different. Even though Schwartzman might be in rich vein of form on the back of four consecutive straight-sets win so far, Nadal has given us the impression that he has already hit another gear. With the conditions heavily conducive to Spaniard’s heavy top-spin game, the task might be well out of reach as far as Schwartzman is concerned.
While Nadal’s return game was immaculate against Sinner, he was broken on four occasions. That is one aspect that Nadal cannot overlook as he looks forward to taking on Schwartzman in the quarterfinal. The Spaniard also tied a career record with eight double faults in the match. He will need to serve a bit better if he wants to win comfortably.
Schwartzman, who is short in stature, is not a great server himself and would dearly aim to hold his service games and hope not to lag behind–especially at the start of sets–if he fancies having any chance of troubling the Spaniard. The 28-year-old Argentine can draw motivation not only from his hard-fought win against Struff in his Round of 16 clash, but also from his solitary win against Nadal, at Rome last year.
There is no doubt that Schwartzman has a heart of warrior. He will keep fighting until the very end, hoping to make some inroads, but Nadal is relentless and knows the every nook and cranny of court Phillipe Chatrier. With the kind of form the Spaniard currently is in, Schwartzman must do something extraordinary if he aims to march into uncharted waters.
Nadal unquestionably starts as an overwhelming favorite, but Schwartzman certainly has the potential to spring us a surprise or two as we anticipate a mouth-watering clash as these two lock horns to seek a semifinal berth at Roland Garros.
Still, unless something shocking happens, expect Nadal to win in straight sets.
Main Photo from Getty.