Schwartzman One Win Closer To Nitto ATP Finals Berth

WASHINGTON/PARIS, November 5, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Diego Schwartzman is only one win away from securing the eighth and final berth in the 50th anniversary of the Nitto ATP Finals. On Thursday, at the Rolex Paris Masters in Bercy, the diminutive Argentine demolished Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, 6-1, 6-1, needing just an hour to secure a place in the quarterfinal round. He won the last seven games of the third-round match inside near-empty AccorHotels Arena.

Schwartzman’s win Thursday eliminated Milos Raonic from further Nitto ATP Finals contention. He will clinch the final spot in London by winning his quarterfinal match on Friday against No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev, or if No. 9 seed Pablo Carreño Busta does not win the Paris title on Sunday.

The World No. 9, who is seeded sixth this week in the final ATP Masters 1000 tournament of the season, was solid both on his service and on his returns. He won 65 percent (33 of 51) of his service points and also 65 percent (22 of 34) of his return points. Schwartzman broke Davidovich Fokina five times in six opportunities and saved all four break points he faced.

As the two competitors met at net, Davidovich Fokina said, “Good luck at the ATP Finals, here, everywhere.” Schwartzman replied: “Thank you so much.”

During his post-match TV interview Schwartzman said, “I wasn’t expecting this kind of match. I thought the match was going to be very tough, as we played just 10 days ago. I did everything well today, serving and moving well.”

The match Schwartzman alluded to was his quarterfinal win at the bett1HULKS Championship in Cologne against Davidovich Fokina, which he won 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, en route to a runner up finish. In January, Schwartzman took out Davidovich Fokina 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Schwartzman is 15-4 since losing in the first round of the US Open and 25-12 overall. Since arriving in Europe in September, his season has been filled with breakthrough moments such as his first career win against World No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals at Rome, which was also his first Top 5 victory. He also reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros last month. This season, Schwartzman has reached three finals: Córdoba, Rome and Cologne.

During his virtual press conference following the Davidovich Fokina victory, Schwartzman pointed back to his five-set first-round loss against then-77th-ranked Cameron Norrie at the US Open, in which he had match points, as a turning point in his season.

“You know, after tough matches and after not the best tournaments, you always have two lines to run, you know, to try to change something or try to fix what you’re not doing well. And the other one is just do like nothing happen,” Schwartzman told Tennis TourTalk. “I was trying to fix, and we said with my team, ‘Okay, what we did good, what we did bad, and how we can change that?’ 

“I think we find a way to get the confidence back. But always it’s hard work.”

When Schwartzman was asked this week why he’s been able to sustain such a high level of play week after week and play so well, he said:I’m able because I’m working really hard when the people are not seeing us, you know, outside the court. I’m keeping doing the same things, really focused.

“I have a great team, and we are trying to enjoy every moment. You know, the confidence always in the individual sports is really important. After Rome, like I said, everything, it’s really good, you know, on court and outside the court.

“Indoors, it’s a surface that I like. I always play good tennis the years before. On clay, when I’m good, I have chances to do well.

“So, maybe [US Open] was not the best, but after that I’m feeling great, and I’m playing very good tennis. That’s why I’m able to do this.”

Medvedev, who will take a 3-0 lifetime win-loss record against Schwartzman into their quarterfinal gave props to the 28-year-old Argentine. “Diego is playing amazing at this moment. His results are unbelievable,” he said. “He will probably be in London. Of course, it’s not official, but there is a big chance. So, it’s going to be a tough match.”

Nadal’s 1,000st win came with less fanfare

A day after World No. 2 Rafael Nadal captured his 1,000th career singles victory, it was back to work. Unheralded 61st-ranked Jordan Thompson of Australia challenged the top-seeded Spaniard – albeit briefly. Nadal prevailed with a 6-1, 7-6 (3) third-round victory in one hour and 33 minutes to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals against No. 9 seed Pablo Carreño Busta.

On serve at 5-6 30-40 in the second set, Nadal saved both a break point and set point by winning an exhausting 26-shot rally in which Thompson hit an errant defensive backhand. Nadal went on to hold serve and won the ensuing tiebreak 7-3 to garner the victory.

Nadal won 86 percent (31 of 36) of his first-serve points – his season average is 74 percent – and faced only one break point. He broke Thompson twice and outpointed the Aussie 68-47.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Nadal to assess his performance against Thompson, he responded by saying:

“Well, I think I played a good first set. A lot of good shots, good winners, serving well.

“And then in the second, [I] was not able to find a way to have the break. He started to serve very well, I think, and I was missing a couple of – I missed a couple of returns that I could do it better, I should do it better.

“But I think he increased a lot the level in the second set. So, he played well, so I give credit to him. He started to change directions very well with the serve, hitting the right spots. Then he’s super-fast from the baseline, no? Returning some very difficult balls.”

Nadal found a good positive to point out in his ninth consecutive victory and 24th of the season in 28 matches.

“Positive thing, I think I only faced one break point with my serve during the whole match but [it] was a set point, and a tough one. So that’s a positive thing, no, with my serve. And in return I think I did it very well in the first and I could do it better in the second.

“I found a way. In the tiebreak, I saved a couple of break points. Second point of the tiebreak had huge importance, too.

“So, yeah, quarterfinals, that’s the most important thing for me. I’m happy.”

Wawrinka ends Rublev’s winning streak

No. 12 seed Stan Wawrinka burned the midnight oil for the second straight night inside AccorHotels Arena. Taking Court Central for the last of six scheduled matches, the World No. 20 from Switzerland pulled off an upset No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev from Russia, coming from behind to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 41 minutes. The victory snapped the World No. 8 Rublev’s 11-match winning streak, in which he capturing back-to-back indoor hardcourt titles at St. Petersburg and Vienna, plus a victory earlier this week at Bercy.

Wawrinka fired 12 aces to 10 for Rublev and won 65 percent of his service points. He broke the Russian three times in five tries and outpointed Rublev 79-78. It was the sixth time this year that Wawrinka has come back to win after losing the first set.

Tennis TourTalk asked Wawrinka how he managed to regroup after being broken three times in the opening set.  He said: “I think of course at the beginning he was playing faster than me, was playing better than me. It was tough for me to really find any solution when he’s playing that well.

“I still, I was still believing that I could change something in my game and play a little bit better. I didn’t start great the match, and he took the confidence from me also.

“I think for me it was important to really focus on my serve. I start to serve better, to mix more, to get more free points, to start to push him a little bit more, put him on defense a little bit. That’s when I knew I will have some occasion to break him.

“But yeah, I’m really happy with the victory.”

Next, Wawrinka will face fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who he lost to in straight sets in the fourth round of this year’s Australian Open.

“He’s a tough player for me to play, so it’s going to be interesting,” said Wawrinka, who is 0-3 lifetime against Zverev. “I watched him a little bit tonight. He played also a long match. Yeah, hopefully I can deliver a great match tomorrow night.”

Around the AccorHotels Arena

• No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia defeated No. 16 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, in one hour and 51 minutes to reach the quarterfinals against No. 6 seed Diego Schwartzman. It was the fifth time this year that Medvedev has come back to win after losing the first set. He’s won six of nine three-set matches this season. Against de Minaur, he won five of seven close games, hit 13 aces and broke his opponent’s serve five times. Medvedev outpointed de Minaur 85-73.

“When you win such matches, especially in the way I did it, playing really good, sometimes gives you extra confidence,” said Medvedev, whose victory over de Minaur was his 20th of the season. “I feel quite good mentally here in Paris, ready to fight.”

• No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev survived a three-hour gut check to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals. The World No. 7 from Germany and 36th-ranked Adrian Mannarino of France went at it for 250 points, which included a 24-point tiebreak that decided the first set in favor of Zverev and a 16-point tiebreak that was won by Mannarino that forced a decider.

In the final set, Zverev broke Mannarino for the fourth time in the match to go ahead 5-4. Then, his 18th service ace set up match point and his 19th ace wrapped up the 7-6 (11), 6-7 (7), 6-4 victory. Zverev outpointed Mannarino 130-120. He won 80 percent (63 of 79) of his first-serve points and saved three of six break points he faced.

“Every time I play Adrian is a very difficult match,” Zverev explained to Tennis TourTalk. “We played US Open and we played in Cologne, we played here, and all of them kind of went the distance.

“I knew it was going to be difficult. I knew he’s a great player. Especially on a faster surface like here, he’s very difficult to beat. I knew I had to stay in there for the whole match.”

Understandably, Mannarino sounded a bit dejected and called the match “a tough loss.”

“Tonight I think I have been playing a pretty good match, but still it’s always like pretty heartbreaking to lose a match this way. I was so close. I have been fighting my best, but it’s tough,” he told Tennis TourTalk.

The victory extended Zverev’s winning streak to 10 – which includes winning back-to-back titles in Cologne – and he extended his career head-to-head against Mannarino to 5-0. Next, Zverev will face No. 12 seed Stan Wawrinka from Switzerland.

• No. 9 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain advanced over 105th-ranked qualifier Norbert Gombos of Slovakia, 7-5, 6-2, in 80 minutes on Court 1. The 15th-ranked Carreño Busta outpointed Gombos 64-48.

After the match he was asked by Tennis TourTalk about the difference in atmosphere and court conditions between Court 1, where he’s played twice, and Court Central, where he played his first-round match and will play top seed Rafael Nadal on Friday evening in the quarterfinals.

“Court No. 1 here is much smaller. Playing without the crowd is strange, you know. Well, it’s tough,” Carreño Busta said. “If you compare both courts, probably tomorrow I will be Central and will be different. I played the first match on Central so I know more or less how to play there. But it’s much different [to] play on Central than [to] play on Court 1. Looks like fast, you know, when you play on a small court.”

• Canada’s tenth seed Milos Raonic advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (1), 6-2 win over 91st-ranked American qualifier Marcos Giron. Raonic, who leads the ATP Tour in services aces, hit 17 and won 83 percent (44 of 53) of his service points. He faced no break points on his serve, broke Giron twice and outpointed his opponent 73-52.

Raonic will face No. 34 Ugo Hubert of France on Friday. Humbert continued his amazing run in his home country with a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 victory over No. 43 Marin Cilic of Croatia in two hours and 24 minutes to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal.

Humbert hit 19 aces and won 84 percent (53 of 63) of his first-serve points and outpointed Cilic 98-91. He has won eight straight matches and nine of his last 10 on hard courts.

I think I try to put [all the] energy I can put in each match,” Humbert told Tennis TourTalk. “I think mentally I’m very strong … and I can win matches in three sets. I won a lot of breaks [today], so I think I’m better in the key moments.

“Today it was physically hard, but I’m happy to be in the quarters.”

Rolex Paris Masters news & notes 

While much of the focus this week at the Rolex Paris Masters has been on the singles draw, out on Court 1 and Court 2, there has been a highly competitive doubles draw taking place with berths in the Nitto ATP Finals on the line.

On Thursday, John Peers of Australia and Michael Venus from New Zealand, seeded seventh, became the sixth doubles team to qualify for London. They defeated Austin Krajicek of the United States and Franco Skugorfrom Croatia, 6-4, 7-6 (4) to move into the quarterfinal round. Later, after Belgium’s Sander Gille and Jordan Vliegen lost to No. 2 seeds Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil, it clinched the berth of Peers and Venus.

Peers and Venus have compiled a 22-9 win-loss record and won three doubles titles this season, at Dubai, Hamburg and Antwerp.

Other teams who have qualified for London include: Pavic and Soares; Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury from Great Britain; Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, both from Germany; Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos from Argentina; and first-time qualifiers Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic from Croatia.

Click here for Thursday’s results

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