Nadal, Del Potro Book Semi-Final Clash At Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal (photo: Brigitte Urban)

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

When top-seeded Rafael Nadal returned to work on Court Philippe Chatrier at noon Thursday for the resumption of his French Open quarterfinal match against Diego Schwartzman, the King of Clay was all business. Although no rain was forecast and the weather and court conditions were much improved from the day before, there was little time to be wasted and, immediately, Nadal put forth a maximum effort with every touch of the ball on his tennis racket. After all, that’s what Nadal does.

The 10-time Roland Garros champion Nadal defeated No. 11 seed Schwartzman, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, in three hours and 42 minutes to advance to his 11th French Open semifinal against Juan Martín del Potro. The World No. 1 has never lost a match at Roland Garros after reaching the semifinals and Nadal became the third man in the Open Era to advance to 11 semifinals at one Grand Slam championship, joining Jimmy Conners and Roger Federer.

After dropping the first set on Wednesday, which snapped a streak of 37 consecutive sets won by Nadal that left him four shy of Björn Borg’s Roland Garros record, the Spaniard settled down and took control of the match from Schwartzman. He recovered from a 2-3 deficit in the second set to lead 5-3 before rain suspended play. When the match resumed today, refocused and regrouped, Nadal immediately won two points to level the match at a set apiece and turned the quarterfinal contest into a best-of-3 set match. From there, Nadal dominated the rest of the way. He won 13 of the last 17 games of the three hour and 42 minute match.

Nadal finished with 34 winners to offset the 46 unforced errors he committed. He won 60 percent (45 of 74) of his first-serve points, controlled the net by winning 17 of 25 (68 percent) opportunities and converted nine of 18 break-point opportunities. By comparison, Schwartzman hit 37 winners but committed 64 unforced errors. He converted just five of 20 break points. Nadal outpointed Schwartzman 137-110.

Mentally, Nadal was supreme and he was physically on track, too, unlike a day earlier. It made for a near-impossible task for the 5-foot-7-inch Argentine to overcome. But Schwartzman, who had never beaten Nadal in five previous tries, accepted his assignment and played fearless tennis. He didn’t go down without a good fight. Schwartman saved a match point at 5-1 in the fourth that delayed the inevitable for another game. However, Nadal played with intensity to the very last point.

At the end of the match, Nadal celebrated with a massive leap in the air, which has become his signature trademark – especially at Roland Garros. He gave props to Schwartman and, soon, the Argentine received a thoroughly deserving standing ovation as he walked off the court. The crowd chanted “Diego” in tribute to his fighting spirit.

During an on-court interview after his win, Nadal said, “It was a very difficult match against a good friend and good player. For me, it’s always big emotions to win here.”

Later, during his press conference, Nadal said, “I played more aggressive. I continued the level of intensity that I played after the first stop. And in my opinion, the match changed. Of course, he’s a tough opponent, and he’s going to always be a tough match. But at the same time, I think after the first rain delay, the match changed a lot because I played more aggressive with high intensity and the things were more on my side.”

Tower of Tandil reaches first RG semifinal since 2009

Juan Martín del Potro beat Marin Cilic, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, to reach his first French Open semifinal since 2009. The 29-year-old Tower of Tandil will face No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal for the 15th time in their storied rivalry on Friday with a place in Sunday’s final at stake. It will be del Potro’s fifth Grand Slam semifinal appearance overall.

In a battle of former U.S. Open champions that stretched over two days and took three hours and 50 minutes to decide, the No. 6 seed del Potro recovered from 1-3 down in the third set of his rain-interrupted match against the No. 3 Cilic by winning 19 of 22 points during one stretch. This came after del Potro double-faulted on a break point in the ninth game of the second set, apparently distracted by a spectator whom he confronted on his way to his chair during the ensuing change over.

Later, del Potro took control of the match for good at 6-5 in the fourth set when he broke Cilic. The Argentine closed out the match on his racket by winning his final service game at love and received tremendous applause from the crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen.

“It’s tough to speak,” said del Potro, tears welling up as he was interviewed on court after his victory. “It’s been a long time. I made three surgeries on my wrist. I was close to quit the sport. 

“I don’t have any words to describe this moment, it’s so good for me, my team, my family. I’m so proud to be here playing my tennis in front of you and I feel at home here.”

Statistically speaking, del Potro won 69 of 87 (79 percent) first-serve points, which included 19 service aces, and he hit 31 winners. Cilic was equally effective in winning 62 of 87 (71 percent) first-serve points. He fired 18 service aces and hit 53 winners. However, Cilic committed 74 unforced errors – 38 more than del Potro – and converted just three of 11 break-point chances. Del Potro outpointed Cilic 159-135.

Del Potro, who will rise from No. 6 in the world to at least No. 4 next week, improved his career head-to-head win-loss record against the Croatian to 11-2 with his fifth straight clay-court win over Cilic. During the fortnight, his Roland Garros run to the semifinals has included wins over Nicolas Mahut, Julien Benneteau, No. 31 seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas and No. 9 seed John Isner. The Argentine’s win-loss record this season is now 28-7, which includes a 15-match winning streak and back-to-back titles won in Acapulco and Indian Wells.

Friday’s order of play

The men’s singles semifinals will be played Friday on Court Philippe Chatrier in Day 13 at Stade Roland Garros. Play starts at 1 p.m. (Paris time) with the first semifinal between unseeded Marco Cecchinato of Italy and No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria. It will be followed, not before 3:30 p.m. (Paris time), by the second semifinal between No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain and No. 5 seed Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina.