Roland Garros Semifinal Preview: Rafael Nadal vs. Diego Schwartzman

Roland Garros Semifinal Preview: Rafael Nadal vs. Diego Schwartzman

Nadal will look to improve his record in Roland Garros semifinals to a perfect 13-0 on Friday.

Diego Schwartzman is on the verge of reaching his first ever Grand Slam final. The problem is, he faces the daunting task of having to defeat Rafael Nadal on clay for the second time in three weeks—and this time, at Roland Garros.

In Rome, Schwartzman earned his first career win in 10 tries over Nadal. If you look up the highlights, you’ll see a TennisTV video entitled "Diego Schwartzman GOD MODE.” While it’s certainly an attention grabbing title, “God Mode”—a video game term for a cheat code that makes a player invincible—might be overselling it.

Not to take anything away from the Argentine, who played one of his best matches and thoroughly dominated the King of Clay from the ground with an onslaught of laser beam jumping backhands…

as well as on-the-run forehand winners…

...but “Diego Schwartzman GOD MODE," ignores a key stat: Nadal’s first-serve percentage.

The Spaniard had a nightmarish serving day, making just 48 percent of his first serves against Schwartzman, who, according to ATP return data, is the world’s third best returner behind Nadal and Djokovic. Even if you're Nadal on clay, that’s not good enough. In his nine previous wins over Schwartzman, Nadal averaged 65 percent of first serves in play.

Andy Murray said it best after his lopsided first-round loss to Stan Wawrinka:

“You know, I served like 40% first serves in the court, which that’s just not good enough, really, against anyone, and especially someone as good as Stan. You want to be serving in the 60%, that sort of region. And yeah, you won’t see many players serve under 40% the rest of the tournament. That’s just not good enough.”

Nadal will undoubtedly improve his first-serve percentage, and despite his recent loss, he’s still listed as a massive -725 favorite. But there’s one crucial stat working in Schwartzman’s favor. According to Hawkeye data, on average, Nadal’s forehand is bouncing 3.5” lower than in 2019. It might not seem like much, but that’s more than five percent of Schwartzman’s height.

While that stat is significant, so is Nadal’s record in Roland Garros semifinals: a perfect 12-0. It’s fun to make a case for Schwartzman, but it’s an exercise in futility.

“Rafa is the legend here,” Schwartzman told press. “He is the owner of this place almost.”

It’s safe to expect a close, high-level match, but Rafa is the King until proven otherwise.

The Pick: Rafael Nadal