Nadal returns with interest to down Diego

 - Michael Beattie

The 10-time champion ran away with his quarter-final against Schwartzman when play resumed on Thursday.

Back at his irresistible best, Rafael Nadal dispatched Diego Schwartzman in the second chapter of their two-day showdown to book his place in the Roland-Garros semi-finals for an 11th time.

For all the talk of sets dropped and wrists wrapped, of heavy conditions and inspired opponents, the Spaniard served a timely reminder of why such straws are so tightly clutched. The world No.1 dismissed the Argentine for the loss of just four games when play resumed to wrap up a 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory in a combined three hours, 42 minutes.

“The stop yesterday helped, because it was in a tough moment of my match,” said Nadal, who will face Juan Martin del Potro in Friday’s semi-final. “He was playing great, and I was playing too defensive. I felt that I was playing a little bit under more stress than usual, and he was able to take control of the point too many times.

“I played more aggressive. I continued the level of intensity that I played after the first stop. And, in my opinion, the match changed, no?”

And how. A swept court, a fresh start, and a recalibrated Rafa proved a bridge too far for Schwartzman on their return to Court Philippe-Chatrier. The No.11 seed had been scintillating in the opening set as he ended Nadal’s unbroken streak of sets won in Paris at 37 – four shy of Bjorn Borg’s Roland-Garros record, on Borg's birthday no less – but even before the rain came there were signs of a momentum shift in the Spaniard’s favour.

Gone was Wednesday’s slate-grey sky on their return, and with it the cloud hanging over Nadal. No sign either of the strapping Nadal asked to be added to both wrists midway through the second set. The Spaniard resumed two points from levelling the match at a set apiece, and that’s all it took, leaving a three-set shootout to reach the final four.

Well, Nadal was engaged. Twelve of the first 13 points went his way, a sequence Schwartzman wrinkled with an unreturned serve. His second point of the day was a beauty, an inch-perfect backhand lob on the run, just clearing Nadal’s swipe and just finding the inside of the baseline. A nerve-settling hold soon followed, but a second break all but decided the fate of the third.

Still, Schwartzman was back in the fight. Having saved a set point at 5-2, four times he reached break point, drawing the very best defence from Nadal to keep the game alive before an errant backhand handed the Spaniard the set.

The Argentine may have been playing better, but Nadal was dialled in, pummelling returns to break at love in the third game and once more in the fifth. A match point came and went at 5-1 as Nadal ratcheted up the intensity with the finish line in sight, but Schwartzman rose to the task, even bringing up a break points of his own as the Spaniard served for it at 5-2.

The crowd chanted 'Diego' in tribute to his spirited resistance, flashes of the brilliance of that first set breaking through all too late. They were still chanting it as he left the court before rising as one to salute the defending champion.

"The changes were not the sun or the rain. It was within myself," Nadal said. "Of course, the rain helped stop the match and helped me think about the match, and that's a reality. But in terms of play, what changed is how I played and how I managed the match.

"Today I moved forward, and I had a better backhand. I was able to open the court on his forehand. Yesterday I was not able to do so. I was not gaining ground.

"And when I was able to change that, I was able to win the game and the match."