In a sinuous contest that featured more twists and turns than the banks of the Seine, Diego Schwartzman valiantly navigated his way past two-time Roland-Garros finalist and reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem, 7-6(1) 5-7, 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-2, to book his spot in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Schwartzman seizes moment in Paris as Thiem runs out of gas
Two-time finalist Thiem emptied the tank against the Argentine, but it wasn’t enough.
With the five-hour and eight-minute triumph, the 28-year-old Argentinian notched his first top-five win at a major in eight tries, and ended a three-match losing streak in Grand Slam quarter-final matches.
He did it against one of his best friends on the tour, making the moment bittersweet.
“Dominic is one of the best players right now in the world,” Schwartzman said on court after the match. “Winning the last Grand Slam, two times final here, we are friends - I have a lot of respect for him.”
The Argentine 12th seed capped a stellar day for Argentina on Court Philippe-Chatrier with his triumph, following compatriot Nadia Podoroska’s earlier upset of Elina Svitolina in the women’s singles.
It was a monumental effort from Schwartzman, and a true testament to his fighting spirit that he was able to rally from two sets to one down. At times rattled by nerves and anxiety, he turned the tide and mounted a late surge to race to victory.
Schwartzman created chances to seize control of the contest in the second and third sets. He poked and prodded as the pair traded blows in a battle that stretched the physical limits of both players.
“In the second and in the third set, when I was close to winning those sets, I couldn’t do it,” Schwartzman said. “At that time I was thinking that today it’s not going to happen, because I had a lot of opportunities. Easy, tough ones, hard - every single opportunity was different and I didn’t take them.”
Thiem, more than Schwartzman, felt the fatigue over the course of this gruelling contest.
“To be honest I was over the limit today,” he said. “At the end I gave everything that I had out there, it was an amazing match.”
Thiem’s resilience kept him in the match. After Schwartzman saved seven break points to notch a 15-minute service hold in the second set, he missed a sitter at the net which would have given him two set points with Thiem serving at 4-5.
Thiem rebounded to take the next three games and the set.
The Austrian later said he did his best to conserve energy in Paris - he even took a full day away from the courts.
“I just tried to do everything I could in the days off to recover,” said Thiem of the physical challenges he faced in Paris, playing a Grand Slam across the Atlantic so soon after winning his maiden Grand Slam title in New York.
“I tried also something new, which I have never done before, for example before the round of 16 I did nothing the whole day, just to try to be 100 per cent again.”
Thiem said he had no regrets and was impressed with the way he held up physically throughout his 11-match winning streak that came to an end on Tuesday.
“I was doing it quite well, I had the feeling also today, I still could play at quite a high level for more than five hours, but he was also keeping it up until the end - he was probably a little bit fresher than me," admitted the 27-year-old.
In the third set, Schwartzman again succumbed to nerves, as he failed to convert a set point which enabled Thiem to unleash his beast in the tiebreaker.
Schwartzman eventually quieted his internal chaos and went about the business of snatching the victory from Thiem’s grasp. He took the fourth set in a tense breaker, and ran away with the fifth for the biggest victory of his career.
“I think if I would have wanted to win that match, I should have done it in four,” Thiem said. “In the fifth set, he was just a little bit more fresh and better than me.”
With the loss, Thiem fails to reach the semi-finals in Paris for the first time since 2015, but his disappointment was tempered by the fact that it was his good friend who earned the victory.
“I mean, we both gave everything,” Thiem said. “Well, the thing in tennis is that there is one loser, one winner. Despite that fact I'm so disappointed, I'm still happy for him.”
He’s not exactly brimming with confidence about potentially facing the King of Clay, but can draw self-belief from his first career win over the Spaniard en route to his runner-up showing in Rome last month, if he does indeed end up squaring off against Nadal in the semi-finals on Friday.
“I'm 10-1 (9-1) down,” he said with a smile. “I'm not sure if I'm going to have a lot of confidence. But, yeah, I know this week that I can beat him. That's the important thing.”