Order of Play: Thursday June 7
Pummelled into a set and a break down, the 10-time champion is almost level again as rain halts play.
In the late afternoon on Day 11 at Roland-Garros, it seemed a cataclysmic event was about to engulf Planet Tennis. Rafael Nadal, the ten-time winner of the Coupe Des Mousquetaires, was a set and a break down to Diego Schwartzman. The Spaniard’s 37-set streak on the Paris clay would go no further, snapped as his opponent leathered winner after winner on Court Philippe-Chatrier to plunder the opening set 6-4.
Worse still for Nadal, he summoned the trainer to strap not just one of his wrists, but both. Might – whisper it – defeat be possible in Nadal’s personal fiefdom?
As of Wednesday night, the answer is still unknown as play was suspended overnight. Wednesday's other men's quarter-final - between Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic on Court Suzanne-Lenglen - is also delicately poised at 5-5 in the first-set tiebreak.
Third seed Cilic had already dug deep to fend off a break after the initial rain delay at five games all, prompting Del Potro to thump a ball into the dirt in frustration at opportunities gone begging.
From 3-5 down in the first-set tie-break, the Argentine drew level for 5-5 only for the umbrellas to go up again as play was suspended a second time.
But for Nadal, the immediate crisis looks to have passed – the rain gods intervened to create a 53-minute hiatus, after which play recommenced for just 17 minutes before another deluge ended the evening’s proceedings. But that brief window was enough for Nadal to haul himself back from 2-3 in the second set to 5-3 30-all, within two points of levelling the match at one set apiece.
Until then, the biggest shock in tennis was being carved out by the shortest man in the game – Schwartzman, all 1.70m of him, whose almighty forehand wrought havoc from the off. “El Peque” – that’s “Shorty” – was going large.
But any disadvantage was blown away from the word go by his electrifying forehand… as was Nadal. It seemed impossible Schwartzman could maintain his intensity. But while the champion twice broke back in the first set, ultimately he was engulfed by the Argentinian’s bagful of 20 winners to his own scant four, with the No.1 seed’s account further drained by 14 unforced errors.
Much as the Chatrier crowd love Nadal, they love even more to see him challenged, and they were eating up Schwartzman’s sensational attack. Nadal got the trainer to strap both his wrists, but at the start of the second set any improvement was negligible. How delighted he must have been to see the rain at 2-3.
When Day 12 arrives on Thursday, Nadal will have just one mission in mind… get “Shorty”.