Lion-hearted Schwartzman poised to pounce

 - Alex Sharp

Argentine 14th seed to cast aside Thiem friendship in bid for maiden Slam semi-final

Diego Schwartzman is speaking like a man ready to grasp his Grand Slam chance.

The 28-year-old is bouncing in a city he adores with his typically beaming smile stretching from cheek to cheek.

The Roland-Garros 12th seed is rarely mentioned in the conversation of favourites or title contenders, but the Argentine insists this is the most confidence he has had coursing through his veins on a major stage.

“I think so, because after a few years you never know when your roof is going to be there and you don't know if you're going to reach another quarter-finals or reach another final in a big tournament,” the diminutive world No.14 said. 

“So doing that kind of things in these tournaments are really nice. Give me a lot of confidence because every year I can improve, I can do a few more things better, and that's the important thing to go on court every day.”

Schwartzman has a burgeoning belief with good reason.  

He shrugged off a US Open first-round exit to hammer the workload on the practice courts for the clay campaign. 

His “best ever” match, a full-throttle, explosion of pace and power, swatted aside the returning Rafael Nadal 6-2, 7-5 in the Rome quarter-finals, a first-class display of clay-court tennis.

From there he edged Denis Shapovalov in a tense third-set tie-break, before world No.1 Novak Djokovic denied him a maiden Masters 1000 title, 7-5, 6-3.  

Schwartzman's riveting Rome run seemed to boost his belief. He carried that to Paris, where he navigated past four opponents in straight sets. It was just what he needed, having kept his energy and Rome belief in tact to take on the major contenders.

“I was in the beginning after the pandemic in [the] house, and the restart on court was not the best for me. In US Open I didn't feel like I was ready to play five sets,” said Schwartzman, who felt cramp in his hands for two weeks following defeat to Cameron Norrie in New York.

“So the beginning for sure was not good. But I was thinking, ‘OK, the tennis is there. I just have to find the way to continue practising hard, doing everything with happiness'.

“It's very important in my life to keep the head up and keep practising, keep doing what I know to do. That's was the key to have this moment right now the last two weeks, in Rome and in here.”

Roland-Garros 2018 was the last time Schwartzman featured in the last eight in Paris. He captivated Court Philippe-Chatrier, when he took the first set from Nadal before his challenge faded.

This time he’ has earned another blockbuster quarter-final, facing his close friend Dominic Thiem.

Schwartman is well aware how close the recent US Open champion was to the exit door in five sets against French wild card Hugo Gaston.

“Yeah, I saw the fifth in the bike, the last four or five games, was an amazing match. You know, impressive game from Hugo Gaston after the first two sets. Yeah, after that I was in the bike stretching. After that Domi arrived, and we were kidding, ‘OK, this is the last time we talk [to] each other until Tuesday,” Schwartzman said with a grin.   

“He was joking, going to hit me, in my legs but nothing happened.”

Schwartzman, having dispatched Lorenzo Sonego 6-1, 6-3, 6-4, would have watched from the warm-down on the bike with double pleasure - seeing a close friend win such an epic contest, while knowing Thiem’s reserves were low.

He is ready to do his homework, particularly on the sequences in favour of the French youngster.

“I’m very happy because of him. He's playing amazing tennis. Today was a great match and tough match for him. But I think obviously playing like how I'm playing the last two weeks on clay, I have chances,” the Argentine said.

“So I have to see how Hugo Gaston today has good third and fourth sets against Domi and try to do similar things and try to keep Domi behind the baseline, because I know when he starts to be aggressive it's really tough to beat.”

A finalist at Roland-Garros the past two years, Thiem can draw upon a 6-2 head-to-head against Schwartzman, including three of their four meetings on clay.

However, Schwartzman is adamant his current form and thought processes can derail the Austrian.  

“He's playing his best in his career. I think after US Open he has a lot of confidence right now. He's doing every single shot, he's doing it, have something, and he knows how to play here. The last three years he did not less than semi-final,” the No.12 seed said.

“I have to do everything perfect and just expect to have the chance and take that chance against these kind of guys. And I beat him so that it's important thing maybe when I have the moment in the match, if I have, to know that I can beat him.”