Rafa bounces Diego to keep semis record perfect in Paris

Nadal moves into his 13th Roland-Garros final and edges within one victory from Federer's all-time men's record.

Rafael Nadal, Roland-Garros 2020, demi-finales©Philippe Montigny / FFT
 - Chris Oddo

In a season of change at Roland-Garros, one constant remains: the mind-boggling dominance of Rafael Nadal

The King of Clay powered past Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(0) on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Friday to book his 13th Roland-Garros final appearance, where he will meet either top-seeded Novak Djokovic or Stefanos Tsitsipas for the title.

“I think I played solid,” said Nadal after the match. “I played with the right determination in most of the moments of the match. Especially in the tiebreak - I finished the match playing well.”

Nadal’s body of work in Paris continues to astound, but the 2020 edition could prove to be his most significant of all, as the Spaniard has earned a chance to claim a 20th Grand Slam title, which would tie him with Roger Federer at the top of the all-time men’s singles list. 

To complete the milestone trifecta, Nadal - now 99-2 lifetime at Roland-Garros - will seek to achieve his 100th career victory and 13th Roland-Garros title on Sunday.

With Friday’s success, the Spaniard improves to 28-6 in Grand Slam semi-finals overall, and remains perfect in Roland-Garros semi-finals at a sparkling 13-0.

Nadal was pushed today by first-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Schwartzman, but there would be no breakthrough from the Argentine. After falling to Schwartzman in Rome in straight sets three weeks ago, Nadal was ready for the challenge. He delivered some of his best tennis late in the third set, saving three break points at 5-5, and running through the tiebreaker unblemished to stretch his current Roland-Garros winning streak to 29.

“Rafa is Rafa,” Schwartzman said in his post-match press conference. “I think he knows how to improve. He knows how to practice, how to do everything. After Rome, he goes straight to practice. He went to improve the things that he did bad in Rome. That's why he's in the final right now.”

Nadal was pleased with his overall performance, and especially the way he put faith in his forehand and rose to the challenge in the later stages of the third set against Schwartzman.

“Winning these kinds of matches, going through these moments, playing that aggressive with the forehand, knowing that you can have success like this, makes me feel positive and makes me feel confident. That helps, of course, for the future,” said the Mallorcan.

Nadal believes that seeing his way through tense moments was crucial today, due to the fact that he had played three matches on clay after a six-month hiatus prior to Roland-Garros. 

“You have to suffer,” he said. “You can't pretend to be in a final of Roland Garros without suffering. That's what happened there,” Nadal said. “At the same time it is important because it is not like [a typical] situation, no? It is unusual. I didn't play much tennis for the last six months. To believe that you can keep doing this kind of stuff, you need to win matches, you need to go through this process again.”

Schwartzman entered the contest with hope, but it was slowly drained away from him as Nadal methodically made the most of his opportunities across the three-hour, nine-minute tilt. Nadal converted six of nine break points, and struck 38 winners, 22 from the forehand side. 

“Rafael Nadal right now, he's always trying to find the moment to have the solutions in every single moment,” Schwartzman said. “At that time when I was playing better than him and finding the way maybe to go to the fourth, he did two winners and then one serve and volley. You didn't expect it.” 

Nadal has dropped a total of three sets across his 13 semi-finals in Paris, and only two players - Djokovic and Federer - have ever taken a set from him in a Roland-Garros semi-final. 

The record-smashing Spaniard feels he has taken a step in the right direction with his performance on Friday. Now comes the next step. 

“I am here to keep trying my best,” Nadal said. “I like to play in this scenario. I know I have to make a step forward. I think I did one today. But for Sunday is not enough. I need to make another one. That's what I'm looking for. I'm going to work hard to try to make that happen.”