Schwartzman fights back to win 'Diego and Goliath' clash

Diego Schwartzman slayed Kevin Anderson - and now he’s after the biggest giant.

Roland-Garros 2018, 8e de finale, Diego Schwartzman©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT
 - Ian Chadband

Looking every inch a diminutive battler out of the Lleyton Hewitt mould, scurrying around in his back-to-front baseball cap, chasing every lost cause and never, ever giving up, Diego Schwartzman turned himself into a new Roland-Garros folk hero on Monday with the finest comeback win - 1-6 2-6 7-5 7-6(0) 6-2 - of his combative career.

All hail then to “El Peque” - “Shorty” - the affectionate name for one of the titchier players on the tour at 5'7". Yet though he may be small of stature, everybody on the men’s Tour has always known Schwartzman has the biggest heart - and, yes, he believes he can slay any giant. Yes, even his quarter-final opponent, Rafael Nadal.

“Did you read David and Goliath?” the smiling Argentine asked his interrogators, who wanted to know how on earth this tough little Buenos Aires bantam, who was giving away more than a foot in height to the 6'8" Anderson, managed to keep his head above water as he was being blown away after the first two one-sided sets.

“That's why. I read David and Goliath when I was young in the school, and I just try to think of that when I see Kevin or the guys who are two metres (tall)," he said. “I’m not sure how I did. I am saying that and repeating it, because I really don't know how I did it! Obviously it's definitely one of the most emotional matches that I can say I have played.”

Next up, it was gently pointed out to Schwartzman, he faces the ultimate tennis Goliath in Nadal - and we all know what that usually means for anyone’s Roland-Garros hopes.

Yet even the Spaniard knows he needs to be wary with this fellow on the verge of the top-10 who punches far above his weight. Asked if he felt he could beat the seemingly unbeatable, Schwartzman said: “Always. Always I believe I can do. If not, I am not playing tennis.

“This year in the Australian Open, I played against him in the round of 16 and I won one set. Then I have many, many chances, break points, and break up in many sets to keep doing a good job against him. All the matches, I played against him I have my chances.

“So I need to recover well again, because to have that chances I need to be my 100 per cent against him, and more here because he's always playing great tennis here.”

Less than a month ago, Schwartzman also made Nadal work hard in a match in Madrid which was much more competitive than the 6-3 6-4 scoreline suggests.

And you can guess who the crowd will now be siding with on Philippe-Chatrier if Monday’s rapturous reception for him on Lenglen is anything to go by as Schwartzman got battered from pillar to post and twice had to haul himself back from the brink of defeat before earning his first-ever career fightback from two sets down.

The showcourt crowds here do love a snapping underdog and Schwartzman never stopped plugging away in the face of bombardment being rained down on him.

He got angry too. As much with himself as his opponent and his team. At one changeover, it appeared he was complaining to the umpire about Anderson’s exhortations but he was adamant afterwards that he was only moaning about the South African’s off-court team. Either way, he smiled, his irritation only served to spur him on.

With the US Open finalist serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set and having had no difficulty holding his delivery for nearly two hours apart from one very early blip, Schwartzman had seen 13 aces and 40 winners ripped past him but remained the model of defiance as the 32-year-old South African seemed to lose his nerve when just two points away from victory.

Having survived to face a fourth set, Schwartzman again found Anderson’s bullets peppering him and for a second time found himself on the brink at 5-4 down as the now-tiring No.6 seed tried again to subdue him once and for all.

Yet, again Schwartzman simply would not fold and once he had broken back and won a flawless tiebreaker to love, there was a kind of inevitability about him finally grinding the weary Anderson to defeat in three hours, 51 minutes.

Now he believes anything is possible as he lines up in his second quarter-final in the last three Slams - he made the last-eight at Flushing Meadows too - with the crowds firmly behind him.

“You know, it's maybe when you're not as strong or you're not as tall as someone like Anderson, you can still win the match. I think that people like me more, as well, for that, because they were supporting me out there. The fact that he was twice as tall as me was a reason for me to try and remain.”

A good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un, so they say, but the smiling Schwartzman is giving a lie to that particular bit of sporting lore.