Coming into Saturday’s Rome quarterfinals, Diego Schwartzman was 0-9 against Rafael Nadal. When the two took the court for the final match of the day at the Foro Italico, that underwhelming statistic went out the door.
Upholding consistent ballstriking and plenty of speed around the court, Schwartzman finally solved the Nadal puzzle with a spectacular 6-2, 7-5 victory—alas with no fans in attendance to share it with.
"For sure it's my best match ever. I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today," Schwartzman told press after midnight local time. "I'm very happy. It's sad to not have people watching the match today. Not the best tournament to do for the first time against Rafa. But I have to still focus because I have a big match tomorrow and I want to do the finals here."
Nadal struggled to find his first serve, an area that Schwartzman exposed to keep Nadal off balanced. The Argentine consistently worked to open up the court, and his aggressive approach, along with ability to track down his opponent’s drop shots, guided him to securing the first three breaks of the match.
From 3-3, the two traded five consecutive breaks of serve, which included Schwartzman getting broken at love with the match on his racquet for the first time at 5-4. But Nadal's decision to serve and volley at 5-5, 15-40 would ultimately do him in, as the Argentine found an open court with a crosscourt backhand. In the ensuing game, Schwartzman recovered from 15-30 down to wrap up the breakthrough victory.
"[Breaking] the serve of the opponents is the best thing I do on court. At night, it's not easy to get the advantage with the serve," said Schwartzman. "You're just trying to put the serve in, trying to go close to the line, take the second ball, and move the opponent. On clay especially, we know how to put in every serve on court.
"It was not easy at the end. When I was serving for the match, I did good points. Many balls really close to the line. I was thinking I have to do the same and maybe he's going to miss one or two balls. And then I have to go one great point. It was happening [like] that in the last game."
The No. 8 seed, through to the final four for a second straight year, will meet No. 12 seed Denis Shapovalov for a place in Monday's final. One of these two will make their Top 10 debut next week, depending on the outcome of this match. Schwartzman needs to win the title to achieve the feat ahead of Roland Garros.
Shapovalov secured his 100th tour-level victory after also putting a winless head-to-head record to bed. The Canadian posted first win in three attempts over Grigor Dimitrov, topping the former ATP Finals champion, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.
"It’s amazing to beat a player like Grigor. He’s someone that I’ve looked up to since I was junior and I’m a really big fan of his game and the way he plays," Shapovalov said in press afterwards. "I had some difficult matches against him. To get the win is a big step for me and my confidence, to know I can beat a player of that category, of that level."
Shapovalov had lost all four sets they previously played, but managed to break the Bulgarian five times to write a different ending this time. The 21-year-old, coming off his first major quarterfinal showing at the US Open, improved to 5-0 in Masters 1000 quarterfinals, and unless Schwartzman wins the title, will make his Top 10 debut next week.