Stats are staggering but Rafa's not counting

 - Alex Sharp

Reigning champion booked his 14th Roland-Garros semi-final, navigating past Diego Schwartzman in four sets.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2021, quarter-final© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Modern sports coverage pours over all the statistics but with Rafael Nadal, the simple mathematics are just astonishing.

The 13-time champion, at his beloved Roland-Garros, improved his record on the terre battue to 105-2 on Wednesday with an impressive 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 quarter-final victory over Diego Schwartzman.

The world No.3 is just two wins away from defending his title and talking sole ownership of the men's all-time Grand Slam leaderboard with what would be his 21st trophy triumph at a major.

Unbeaten in his last 35 Roland-Garros matches, and posting a 104-4 record in sets during that period, Nadal moved into his 14th semi-final on Parisian clay, where he awaits the winner of Novak Djokovic or Matteo Berrettini

The media have simply run out of superlatives to describe his dominance and longevity here.

“Of course, the numbers are just amazing, no? But I can't think about that now, honestly. Let's talk about that when I finish my career. Now is a moment to be happy,” stated the Spaniard.

“I won an important match today against a tough opponent. I was able to find a way to play my best tennis in the moment that I really needed, no? Something very important for me. A lot of confidence after that.”

There was plenty of reason to be confident after that contest, Nadal wrestling away the momentum with seven straight games from 3-4 down in the third set. From there it was a capsule of vintage Nadal, booming shots and ridiculous defence ending the Argentine’s quest. The Mallorcan won 30 of the last 35 points of the match.

A fair few commentators and some players have claimed that facing Nadal, over five sets, at Roland-Garros, is one of the hardest challenges in all of sport. 

“I am not the one to talk about myself, no? I don't like. I can't avoid that I had great numbers here in Roland-Garros,” insisted the humble 35-year-old.

“A lot of great sports people, women, men, did amazing things in the world of sport in the history. Just that commentators think about me on that way is something that I am proud of it, it's an honour for me.”

Records and statistics out the window, Nadal is concentrating on the here and now.

“Is not my mindset to come here and just thinking about lose a set going to be a disaster for me. That's part of the game. We are facing the best players of the world. The thing that matter is how you recover from a set lost,” explained the world No.3.

Nadal had won 36 successive sets at Roland-Garros until No.10 seed Schwartzman’s gallant effort in the second set ended that streak on Wednesday.

The Spaniard recovered in archetypal fashion, ramping up the aggression and intensity to snuff out any chance of a shock.

“I have been in a tricky situation, 4-3 for him in the third set, one-set-all. Then was the moment to calm myself, to think about the things that I was doing well on practices, just to try to make it happen,” he maintained.

“That was the moment to make it happen because was a tough, tough moment. I'm very proud that in that moment probably the best level of tennis that I had I showed.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2021, quarter-final© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

"Not many mistakes, hitting a lot of winners, starting to hit the forehand down-the-line, playing more angles, playing longer with my forehand cross, returning a little bit better. My serve I think started to work better in that third set. But it's normal.”

There is nothing "normal" about Nadal’s epic, era-defining rivalry with world No.1 Djokovic, which could reach a 58th instalment on Friday.

“If that is the case, we know each other well. Everybody knows that in these kind of matches anything can happen,” said a guarded Nadal, narrowly 28-29 down in his head-to-head record with the Serb.