Scorelines can be deceiving, and that certainly held true in the last quarter-final of the 2019 US Open. Three-time champion Rafael Nadal defeated Argentine Diego Schwartzman 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in the early hours of Thursday morning, but the Spaniard’s victory was anything but straightforward.
Nadal overcame a spirited effort from the No. 20 seed to win his eighth consecutive quarter-final in Flushing Meadows in what felt like a titanic battle, not a straight-sets win. The legendary lefty earned double-break leads in each of the first two sets, but was unable to hang onto those on either occasion.
“He’s one of the best players of the world. When he’s playing well, he’s able to win against everybody,” Nadal said. “Tonight was for me [a] tough match. I’m very happy for the victory.”
However, when it mattered most, Nadal maintained the more consistent level, advancing to his eighth semi-final in New York after two hours and 47 minutes. The Spaniard has long been dominant in major quarter-finals, improving to 33-7 at this stage of Slams with five of those losses coming at the Australian Open. This is Nadal’s 11th tournament in 2019, and he has reached at least the last four in 10 of them.
“Diego is playing unbelievable. I need to play my best in the next round to have the chance to be in the semi-finals,” Nadal said after his fourth-round victory. That prediction proved to be spot on.
Nadal crushed 35 winners and broke serve eight times to find a way to win against an opponent who refused to back down. Many times, Nadal’s unrelenting groundstrokes typically push players further behind the baseline as a match wears on. But Schwartzman tried to go blow-for-blow with the second seed, playing aggressively whenever possible.
His effort was not enough, though, as Nadal earned a semi-final showdown against Matteo Berrettini, who had never made a Slam quarter-final before this tournament. The Italian outlasted Frenchman Gael Monfils in an epic five-setter earlier in the day. It will be the pair’s first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting.
“I really believe that if you want to win tournaments, you need to go through tough opponents like I had against Marin, today against Diego. He was playing great the whole event and now [Matteo is] another player that is playing great,” Nadal said. “Let’s see. I need to play my best, and I think today I made a step forward.”
Nadal sprinted to a 4-0 lead in the opener. But once Schwartzman found his rhythm in the baseline rallies, he was able to engage with the World No. 2. And seemingly out of nowhere, Schwartzman got both breaks back to get to 4-4, earning two break points to give himself a chance to serve for the set. But Nadal hung in there to avoid losing a third consecutive service game, and Schwartzman hit a backhand into the net on set point.
Again, Nadal appeared poised to pull away when he bashed a forehand before putting away an overhead off the bounce to break for 3-1 in the second set. Quickly, the 18-time Slam titlist earned another break to move to 5-1. But Schwartzman never went away, making an amazing series of gets at 15-0, finally shoveling a forehand winner down the line before raising both arms to get the crowd involved.
In the moment, it seemed like Schwartzman was simply enjoying his time in the world’s biggest tennis stadium. But it showed that he was giving Nadal all he can handle, again recovering both breaks to return to 5-5 as chants of ‘Olé’ rang out through the New York night. However, Nadal again was too strong in crunch time, hammering a forehand down the line to earn two set points, and converting the second of those when Schwartzman missed a forehand into the net.
Nadal received a visit from the trainer at 2-1 in the third set, getting his forearm rubbed for what he later said was a cramp. But the Spaniard won the final four games of the match, punctuating his triumph with a big roar.
“I’m feeling good. Today was [a] very humid day, very heavy day. I had some cramps in the end of the second and first five games, six games of the third.
And then I took some salt, that’s all, and then [it] was over,” Nadal said. “The body is in good shape, I think. No big problems. Just of course now [I’m] a little bit tired, long day, 1:30 am, need to go to sleep. But I really believe that I’m going to be in good shape.”
Schwartzman, who also reached the last eight here two years ago (l. to Carreno Busta), was trying to reach his first major semi-final. When the next ATP Rankings are released, he will become the No. 1 player from Argentina.
“[Rafa is like] a lion in the middle of the jungle. He’s a fighter. He knows how to play the important moments every single time,” said Schwartzman, who trails Nadal 0-8 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. “I played eight times, and every important moment he played better than me.”
Did You Know?
– Nadal is the only player remaining in the field who has reached a Grand Slam final. The only other player left who has made a major semi-final is Grigor Dimitrov, who defeated Roger Federer on Tuesday evening.
– This is the first time since 2008 that Nadal has made the semi-finals or better at all four majors.