Semi-final preview: Nadal v Schwartzman

Twelve-time champion chases revenge against last-four debutant in the first men's semi-final on Friday.

 - Dan Imhoff

As the man who beat 12-time Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal in his lone lead-up event on clay, Diego Schwartzman has the chance to back that up on a Grand Slam stage on Friday.

Second seed Nadal, two victories from a record-extending 13th trophy in Paris, will contest his first major semi-final since last year’s US Open, while Schwartzman finds himself in the last four at a slam for the first time.

Here’s a closer look at this Diego v Goliath semi-final showdown...


The ledger reads a lop-sided 9-1 in the Spaniard’s favour, however if any player is to own a sole victory, best it be from the most recent encounter – on clay, even better.


Should Schwartzman win consecutive matches against the Spaniard he would become just the third man to beat Nadal in Paris, after Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic.

He would also be just the third man to register two clay-court wins over Nadal in the same season after Djokovic and Fabio Fognini.

This marks the pair’s sixth meeting on the red dirt – Nadal leads 4-1 – and their fourth in a major, all of which were won by the No.2 seed. This is their second meeting at Roland-Garros, after Nadal prevailed in four sets in the quarter-finals two years ago on his way to the title.

Where the match can be won 

Schwartzman will be hoping for some of the damp, heavier conditions the pair experienced in their night-time clash in Rome, in which he beat Nadal last month en route to his maiden Masters 1000 final.

After adding US Open champion Dominic Thiem to his list of victims in a five-set quarter-final his confidence has never been higher, but whether he can take more than a set or two off Nadal, now that the Spaniard has had time to acclimatise to the Paris conditions is a different story.

Nadal typically thrives on a hot, dry clay where his forehand can whip off the dirt with more venom, but a later staging of Roland-Garros has not exactly ruffled his feathers as many predicted it would.

While the change in conditions do work more in Schwartzman’s favour, he will need every advantage he can get.

Like in Rome, the Argentinian will seek to hit through the court more with Nadal’s usual heavy topspin forehands playing lower into his hitting zone in these conditions.

While small in stature, don’t be surprised to see him come to net, a tactic which worked particularly well for him against Thiem. Nadal’s superior firepower, variety and vastly greater experience on this stage though makes it a herculean task ahead for the Argentinian. It would be a monumental upset if the No.12 seed were to pull it off.

Key stats

Schwartzman leads the tournament in return games won this fortnight, having claimed 55 per cent of the games in which his opponent was serving.

Of the four semi-finalists, Nadal has had the best success rate up at the net, winning 72 per cent (64/89) of his net points en route to the semis.

The Mallorcan has dropped just 34 games in his five straight-sets victories at Roland-Garros this year, with Jannik Sinner the first player to take five games off him in a single set.

While he remains the only man to have reached the semi-finals this year without conceding a set, it is not a first. He has done so in 11 majors previously, including six times at Roland-Garros. He is now 98-2 in matches on the clay in Paris.

Nadal has never been beaten in 12 prior appearances in the Roland-Garros semi-finals. He has claimed four of the seven major semi-finals he reached since the start of 2018, having won the prior 15 he contested.

They are daunting numbers for the 1.70m Argentinian, who aims to become the first non-European to reach the final since countryman Mariano Puerta in 2005.

Nadal has been the epitome of efficiency in the men’s draw, having spent only 10 hours and 4 minutes on court, while Schwartzman has spent a hefty 16 hours and 48 minutes from two doubles and five singles matches so far, of which 13 hours and 34 minutes came in singles.

The Spaniard’s 143 winners to this point comprise of a whopping 88 off the forehand wing – more than four times those from his backhand – while Schwartzman’s 51 forehand winners are only 14 more than those from his backhand.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2020, quarter-final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

What they said

Nadal on his upcoming semi-final:

“Today he played an amazing match against one of the best players of the world, without a doubt, especially on this surface. He's coming with big confidence. He's in the final in Rome, he's in the semi-finals here. He beat me there. It's a plus of confidence for him. I know that. I'm going to try to go on court, play my best, try to play my game, play aggressive, try to do something a little bit different than what I did in Rome, of course. Hope to be ready to play my best. That's what I need.”

Schwartzman on facing Nadal:

“I know this week that I can beat him. That's important thing… I know Rafa is the guy who has to win or who is in the best position to win… Well, I have to do a mix every time I'm on court. Being aggressive when I have the chance, having a good defences when I have to do it… I have a good situation about the recovery after the matches. I feel in a good way after the matches… I was perfect today [against Thiem]. I think after two days I'm going to be perfect in semi-final.”