By SAM PETREQUIN – Japan Today
Rafael Nadal’s French Open set streak is over. His pursuit of a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title — including 14 at Roland Garros — remains very much intact.
Nadal shrugged off dropping a set in Paris for the first time in two years and regained control Wednesday, whipping violent forehands punctuated with first pumps and yells of “Vamos!” en route to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over 10th-seeded Diego Schwartzman to reach the semifinals at the clay-court major tournament.
After he ceded the second set and trailed 4-3 in the third, Nadal said later matter-of-factly, “That was the moment to make it happen.”
As if wanting something were enough to will it into existence, he won the next nine games. How? Let him tell you.
“Not many mistakes,” Nadal said. “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. I mean, my serve, I think, started to work better.”
The No. 3 seed Nadal will play in Friday’s semifinals against No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who reached his 40th Grand Slam semifinal at the French Open despite being held up by 5,000 fans needing to be evacuated to conform with a Covid-19 curfew.
World number one Djokovic defeated Italy’s Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5 to book his place in the last four in Paris for the 11th time.
The Djokovic-Berrettini quarterfinal was suspended during the fourth set to impose a pandemic-related curfew set at 11 p.m.
Fans were expected to leave at 10:45 p.m. but many did not and even started chanting “we’ve paid, we’ll stay.” Some even jeered those who left.
Djokovic was up 2-1 in sets and leading 3-2 when play was halted on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
At 10:55 p.m. both players packed their bags and walked off down the tunnel while fans jeered and one shouted out “Rip-off!”
Within a few minutes the main stadium was almost completely empty.
The other men’s semifinal will be No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 6 Alexander Zverev.
Nadal, who turned 35 last week, is now 105-2 for his career at Roland Garros.
He is just two wins from eclipsing the men’s mark for most total Grand Slam singles championships that he currently shares with Roger Federer.
In addition to his 13 trophies at Roland Garros — four in a row from 2005-08, five in a row from 2010-14 and another four in a row so far since 2017 — the Spanish left-hander won four titles at the U.S. Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open.
There are four first-time Grand Slam semifinalists left in the women’s bracket, something that last happened at the 1978 Australian Open.
In Wednesday’s quarterfinals, No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari ended Iga Swiatek’s title defense by beating her 6-4, 6-4, and unseeded Barbora Krejcikova stopped the run of 17-year-old Coco Gauff 7-6 (6), 6-3. So Sakkari faces Krejcikova on Thursday, when the other semifinal will be No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova against unseeded Tamara Zidansek.
Nadal entered his quarterfinal with a 35-set run at Roland Garros that began during the 2019 final. That grew to 36 on Wednesday, before Schwartzman outplayed him for a stretch, surprisingly winning more of their exchanges that lasted at least nine strokes.
“I don’t pretend to come here and not (lose) sets. Is not my mindset to come here and just thinking (losing) a set is going to be a disaster for me. I mean, that’s part of the game,” Nadal said. “The thing that matters is how you recover from a set lost.”
So this is what came next: Nadal held, then broke to go up 5-4, before holding at love to take the third set. He broke again to open the fourth and remove any remaining sense of suspense.
Schwartzman — now 1-11 against Nadal, including a loss in the 2020 French Open semifinals — started muttering to himself and bounced his racket off the clay a moment before getting broken again to trail 3-0 in fourth.
“Well, for anybody it’s very difficult to play against him. He’s feeling very comfortable on court,” Schwartzman said. “He’s Rafa. and he’s always finding the way.”