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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, June 9, 2021


Rafael Nadal stormed through nine straight games defeating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 to reach his record-extending 14th Roland Garros semifinal.

Photo credit: Roland Garros Facebook

Streaking into the doubles alley, Rafael Nadal was out of court but still crackling with creativity.

Lasering a running forehand down the line, Nadal's stunning strike drew gasps from fans and an incredulous head shake from Diego Schwartzman.

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Striking with head-snapping authority down the stretch, Nadal stormed through nine straight games subduing Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 racing into his record-extending 14th Roland Garros semifinal.

It was Nadal's 35th consecutive French Open victory and though he dropped a set for the first time since the 2019 final, the reigning champion showed convincing closing skills reeling off 30 of the last 35 points, including 20 of his last 21 service points.

"I started badly in the second set, then I was able to come back," Nadal said. "But at 4-4, returning with the wind, I played a bad game and hit a double fault in the next game. I needed to play more aggressively and I did so throughout the rest of the match."

The king of clay owns an astounding 105-2 career Roland Garros record, including a mind-blowing 26-0 mark in semifinals and finals in Paris.

"Of course, the numbers are just amazing, no? But I can't think about that now, honestly," Nadal said. "Let's talk about that when I finish my career. Now is a moment to be happy. I won an important match today against a tough opponent. I was able to find a way to play my best tennis in the moment that I really needed, no?

"Something very important for me. A lot of confidence after that. And, yeah, it's a moment to enjoy today and to try to start preparing for that semifinals in terms of recovery, in terms of practice little bit tomorrow to confirm the good feelings at the end of the match, so that's it."

Full credit and respect to the scrappy Schwartzman for snapping Nadal's winning streak of 36 straight sets in Paris by battling through the second set. Once Nadal gained the crucial break for a 5-4 third-set lead he lifted his level to a place beyond Schwartzman's reach roaring through five of the final nine games at love.

The 35-year-old Nadal now stands six sets away from a men's record 21st Grand Slam championship.

"He start to serve very good. He start to make many good first serves, winning a lot of points with the first serve," Schwartzman said. "At the end of the third, he deserve to win because he did many winners, he start to play amazing. In the fourth, I didn't have the chance to play any point."

Nadal will face either world No. 1 Novak Djokovic or ninth-ranked Matteo Berrettini in Friday's semifinals.

In this rematch of the 2020 Roland Garros semifinal, the 10th-seeded Schwartzman, who shocked Nadal on Rome's red clay last fall, played high quality baseline tennis to test the champion for three full sets.

The third-seeded Spaniard stepped around a backhand and lashed a forehand return down the line shattering Schwartzman's serve at  love for 4-2. The Argentinean broke back with a backhand down the line.

A central challenge of this match-up for Schwartzman is holding serve against Nadal who forces the Buenos Aires-born baseliner to battle for every point on serve. On the day, Nadal converted seven of 14 break-point chances. Though Schwartman dug out of a triple-break point hole, a double fault put his serve right back in the crosshairs. When Schwartzman missed a leaping backhand, Nadal had his second straight break for 5-3.

Nadal skimmed the net with a forehand down the line wrapping up his 36th consecutive set in Paris in 43 minutes.

Enduring optimism is one of the Argentinean's assets.

Setting the opening set aside, Schwartzman moved closer to the baseline and reaped immediate rewards for that tactic. Schwartzman broke Nadal in his opening service game of set two eventually extending to 3-0.

Standing toe-to-toe with the king of clay in a crackling baseline exchange, Schwartzman rocketed a forehand down the line holding for 5-4.

When Nadal sprayed a forehand and Schwartzman touched the baseline with a backhand the underdog had a set point on the champion's serve. Nadal showed some nerves tapping a tame drop shot that sat up in the service box as Schwartzman swooped in and the third seed shanked a forehand. 

Suddenly, Schwartzman snapped the Spaniard's 36-set winning streak in Paris three years after he ended Nadal's 38-set winning streak winning the opening set of their 2018 quarterfinal and some French fans were chanting "Diego! Diego!" exhorting him with excitement.

Through the first eight games of the third set, Schwartzman stayed in step. Then a Schwartzman forehand crashed into the tape and settled back on his side of the court to give Nadal double break point in the ninth game.

Schwartzman belted a backhand to save the first.

On the second break point, Nadal drew the baseliner forward with a drop shot, anticipated the pass and blocked a lunging volley that helped him break for 5-4.

"I am self-confident if I am playing well," Nadal said. "If I'm not playing well, doesn't matter where you are. That's the thing, no? Of course, there is places that for some reason you feel playing well more often than in other places.

"I have been in a tricky situation, 4-3 for him in the third set, one set all. Then was the moment to calm myself, to think about the things that I was doing well on practices, just to try to make it happen. That was the moment to make it happen because was a tough, tough moment.

"I'm very proud that in that moment probably the best level of tennis that I had I showed up until that 4-3 against, until the end of the match, no, with not many mistakes, hitting a lot of winners, starting to hit the forehand down the line, playing more angles, playing longer with my forehand cross, returning a little bit better."

Playing from behind most of the set, Nadal was swinging more freely after earning the crucial break. Driving successive forehands deep in the court, Nadal snatched a two sets to one lead after two hours, 15 minutes.

Serving with command, Nadal made 22 of 25 first serves, fired four aces against no double faults and did not face a break point in the third set.

On the sun-baked salmon-colored court, Nadal was trampolining his topspin drives that sometimes bounded shoulder-high at Schwartzman. The reigning champion was reclaiming the baseline pushing Schwartzman further back behind the line as he broke at 15 to open the fourth set.

Breathing room helped Nadal exhale with authority as he plowed through 14 consecutive points and pumped his sixth ace powering through to a 4-0 lead.

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  All the good Schwartzman did battling through three sets dissipated in the dirt as Nadal elevated his game to places the 5'7" Argentinean just could not reach given the physicality of this match. Sprinting up to a short ball, Nadal swept a forehand down the line breaking for his eighth straight game and a 5-0 lead.

A swarming baseline attack and snarling intensity empowered Nadal to his 35th Grand Slam semifinal—third in Open Era history behind rival Roger Federer (46) and Djokovic (39) heading into tonight's quarterfinal vs. Berrettini.

"Best thing is you know that you need to play your best tennis," Nadal said of possibly facing Djokovic in a rematch of the 2020 final. "It's a match that you know what you have to do if you really want to have chances to success and to keep going on the tournament. Always a big challenge.

"That's something that is good because in some way we are practicing, we are living the sport for these moments. So that's a good thing. The negative thing, it's difficult because you play against one of the best players of the history. That's how it is."


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