Nobody beats Diego Schwartzman 10 times in a row. Not even Rafael Nadal.
Schwartzman stunned nine-time Rome champion Nadal 6-2, 7-5 after two hours and four minutes on Saturday evening to reach the semi-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. Entering the match, Nadal had won all nine of their ATP Head2Head meetings, including 24 of their 26 sets.
The Argentine is into his second ATP Masters 1000 semi-final. Schwartzman reached the last four at this level for the first time last year at the same event. He lost three of his first four matches at the Foro Italico, but has now won seven of his past eight on the Roman clay. He was especially courageous on the backhand side, keeping Nadal from playing his typical overwhelming clay-court tennis.
Schwartzman played a spectacular match to earn his first victory against Nadal, playing aggressively and emerging victorious in cat-and-mouse points that few opponents win against Nadal, especially on clay.
Nadal’s forehand is one of the biggest weapons in tennis, but Schwartzman consistently engaged in cross-court rallies with his backhand, pummeling his two-hander at every opportunity. The second seed only won 48 per cent of his first-serve return points, whereas Schwartzman earned 58 per cent of his second-serve points.
“You don’t see this on clay,” said Tennis Channel commentator Paul Annacone, former coach of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, said of Schwartzman’s performance during the second set.
Nadal was trying to win his 10th Internazionali BNL d’Italia title. The legendary lefty falls to 63-7 at the Italian Masters 1000 event. This was his first tournament since the ATP Tour resumed in August.
Schwartzman took a set-and-a-break lead when Nadal hit a forehand drop shot into the net from inside the court. But that was only the first of five consecutive service breaks. The Argentine served for the match at 5-4, but was broken at love by a determined Nadal, who refused to make any unforced errors.
Schwartzman did not get discouraged, earning another chance to serve for the match with a two-part passing shot combination. He let out a roar after smacking a short backhand past a helpless Nadal at the net. This time, Schwartzman converted his opportunity, screaming, “Yeah!” after finishing the match with a forehand drop volley.