Add “latest-finishing match” and “13 semifinals reached” to the considerable roster of French Open records owned by Rafael Nadal.
The 12-time champion at Roland Garros withstood an early challenge from 19-year-old Jannik Sinner and pulled away to win their quarterfinal 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-1 in a match that ended at nearly 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Paris on a windy night with the temperature in the low 50s.
Competition can continue that deep into the night this year because it’s the first time artificial lights are being used for play at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
“Of course, it’s not ideal [to] finish a match at 1:30 in the morning,” said Nadal, 34. “But the problem is the weather. It’s too cold to play. Honestly, it’s very, very cold to play tennis, no?”
He added that it was a “little bit dangerous for the body play with these very heavy conditions.”
Their quarterfinal began after 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. It was the last match of the day’s packed schedule at Court Philippe Chatrier, which went longer than anticipated thanks to No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman’s five-hour, five-set victory over No. 3 Dominic Thiem.
“I really don’t know why they put five matches on Chatrier today,” Nadal said. “That was a risk.”
No. 2 Nadal will take a 9-1 head-to-head edge against Schwartzman into their match in Friday’s semifinals.
“Two days to practice, to rest a little bit and to recover, and just try to be ready,” Nadal said.
Schwartzman has this going for him: He won their most recent matchup, beating Nadal last month on clay at a tuneup in Rome.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to have a lot of confidence,” Schwartzman said, “but, yeah, I know … that I can beat him. That’s important.”
Nadal is trying to win a 13th French Open title and 20th Grand Slam trophy overall, which would equal Roger Federer’s mark for men.
Among the many statistics that stand out about Nadal’s track record in Paris: He is 98-2, which includes 24-0 in semifinals and finals.
For the 75th-ranked Sinner, this was his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Consider this: Nadal turned pro in 2001, the year Sinner was born. Nadal made his French Open debut in 2005, turned 19 during the tournament, beat Federer in the semifinals and won the trophy. No one since then had made it to the men’s quarterfinals at Roland Garros during his first appearance until Sinner this year.
Earlier Tuesday, Schwartzman played through the wind and rain and into the dark of night against Thiem, contesting a total of 376 points, knowing all the while he had never won a match of this magnitude.
And so, as he kept wasting chances to seize control of their quarterfinal, kept letting sets slip away, Schwartzman yelled at himself or at his coaches, put his hands on his hips or smirked at his mistakes.
Then, two points from defeat against the US Open champion and two-time runner-up at Roland Garros, Schwartzman found his way and emerged with a 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory by taking the last four games against a fading Thiem.
“I mean, we both gave everything,” said Thiem, who is good friends with Schwartzman. “The thing in tennis is that there is one loser, one winner. Despite [being] so disappointed, I’m still happy for him.”
Schwartzman, a 28-year-old from Argentina, entered this match with an 0-3 record in major quarterfinals. He acknowledged that weighed on him.
“I was just so nervous,” he said. “I saw the chance today.”
Schwartzman’s edginess was on display a few times. He couldn’t believe it when chair umpire Louise Azemar Engzell appeared to get a call wrong in the first set. He argued with her again later when she wouldn’t halt the match despite a rain shower, saying: “How do you know it’s playable or not … if you are sitting there, and we are playing?”
It was a grueling contest in which more than 100 of the points lasted at least nine strokes — frequently going past 20 or even 30 shots. As good as he is at speeding along the baseline on those kinds of extended exchanges, Schwartzman did some of his best work at the net, winning the point on 62% of his trips forward.
The 5-foot-7 Schwartzman’s serve is a liability, his biggest weakness and, so far, impediment to greater success. But while he lost nine of his service games, he made up for that with one of his many other skills — returning — and broke Thiem 10 times.
The ninth break put Schwartzman up 4-2 in the fifth when Thiem netted a backhand, and the last ended it, when Thiem put two drop shots into the net.
Thiem had been 17-1 in Grand Slam action this year, including a run to the final at the Australian Open in February. He also had won 26 of his past 30 matches at Roland Garros, with the losses all coming against Nadal or Novak Djokovic. He was trying to become only the fourth man in the Open era, which began in 1968, to get to at least the semifinals in Paris for five consecutive years.
But all of the energy expended by Thiem’s legs and mind over the past five weeks, in New York and in Paris, took a toll, including a five-setter in his previous match. From early on against Schwartzman, Thiem would bail out of points by trying mediocre drop shots, a bit of foreshadowing of the day’s denouement.
“To be honest, I was over the limit today,” Thiem said, describing himself as “physically and mentally on the edge.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev posted a screenshot of his negative test for the coronavirus on his social media feed on Monday, putting to rest fears that he played his fourth-round match at the French Open while infected by COVID-19.
Those concerns were triggered by Zverev saying that he was hampered by a fever and respiratory difficulties following his loss to Sinner.
“I wanted to update everyone that I have again tested negative for COVID,” Zverev wrote. “I wasn’t 100% yesterday and will now take a few days to recover.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.