Schwartzman draws only positives in defeat

Argentinian's Grand Slam breakthrough comes to an end against reigning champion Nadal

Diego Schwartzman, Roland Garros 2020, semi-finals© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Fine margins are what separate the greatest players and from the great players.

Diego Schwartzman has compiled a standout clay-court campaign. The Argentine blitzed Rafael Nadal in straight sets in Rome last month, en route to a debut Masters 1000 final, which he eventually lost to world No.1 Novak Djokovic.

Over in Paris, the diminutive 28-year-old broke new Grand Slam ground. A blockbuster five-setter against US Open champion Dominic Thiem catapulted ‘Dancing Diego’ into a maiden major semi-final.

The No.12 seed may have taken down an undercooked Nadal in Rome, but the 12-time champion is another beast on his cherished terre battue of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The magnitude of the task facing Schwartzman was daunting for any player. Nadal led their head-to-head 9-1, had bludgeoned the draw without dropping a set as he closed on a record-tying 20th major.

Ultimately Schwartzman gave it his all, stretching every sinew in a 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(0) defeat to the ‘King of Clay’ over three hours of play.

The first two games painted the picture. The Spaniard saved two break points in a gruelling 14-minute opener, then instantly broke Schwartzman from 0-30 down.

“The beginning in every single match I play against Rafa, it's always, like, 25 minutes and it's 1-all,” said Schwartzman with a chuckle. “I expect that before the match, so was not a surprise. After that, you maybe have the ideas, ‘OK, we are going to play many hours today'. I think the difference today was few balls difference, few balls that I did really well and few was out like really close from the lines.”

It’s a neat summary of one of the toughest tasks in tennis. It came down to the fine margins.

“It's different playing against Djokovic, Federer, Rafa, these guys. Is not easy playing them five sets because you have to play your best tennis maybe for three, four hours, five hours,” the Argentinian said.

“Physically it's very hard. Mentally it's very hard. To improve and to beat the best guys on tour, you have to play them and you have to beat them. I like to play five sets.

“I feel really good today. Physically I was perfect. But, yeah, it's tough to keep the level really high against these guys for maybe more than three hours.”

That is the problem for all the chasing pack trying to loosen the grip of the ‘Big Three’.

Schwartzman - proud of his recent fortnight and a new career-high ranking of No.8 on Monday - pointed to Nadal’s ability to recalibrate after a defeat.

“Rafa is Rafa. I think he knows how to improve. He knows how to practise, how to do everything. After Rome, he goes straight to practice. He went to improve the things that he did bad in Rome. That's why he's in the final right now.”

Schwartzman emphasised the difference between the likes of him and Nadal was how the Spaniard played the pivotal moments.

“Rafael Nadal right now, he's always trying to find the moment to have the solutions in every single moment. At that time when I was playing better than him and finding the way maybe to go to the fourth, he did two winners and then one serve-and-volley,” Schwartzman said.

“You didn't expect. You expect to play every point, clay points, in that moment. He did a few winners, start to be aggressive, too good.”

A deep Roland-Garros run has enhanced Schwartzman's belief he can compete deeper at the majors. He was honoured to have the chance to tackle the ‘Big Three’ conundrum.

“The most beautiful thing about these three guys is how different are these guys on court and outside the court," he said. "They are really different, how they play on court. One like play on clay, the other one on grass. Also one lefty, the other one aggressive, the other one is sliding like nobody.

“I think the most beautiful thing it's for sure how different these guys are. So that's amazing. From me, is the best part to play with these guys. I'm enjoying a lot because at this time I can play against these three guys in different tournaments, so I'm enjoying a lot to see these guys on tour and playing against them.”

For now Schwartzman is content to have taken a major step up.