PARIS, June 9: Rafael Nadal reached a record-extending 14th French Open semi-final on Wednesday with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 win over Diego Schwartzman, setting up a potential last-four showdown with world number one Novak Djokovic.
Nadal, bidding for a 14th Roland Garros title and record 21st major triumph, dropped his first set at the tournament since 2019 — ending a run of 36 consecutive sets won in Paris by the Spanish third seed.
The 35-year-old Nadal extended his incredible French Open record to 105 wins and two losses as he advanced to his 35th Grand Slam semi-final. He beat Argentine 10th seed Schwartzman in the last four of the 2020 edition.
“It’s always incredible for me to return to the semi-finals for another time,” said Nadal.
“Diego is such an amazing player with so much talent, today was a very difficult challenge.”
Nadal and Schwartzman had both progressed to the last eight without dropping a set.
After Nadal took the opener he faltered while serving to stay in the second set, shanking long to concede his first set at Roland Garros since beating Dominic Thiem in four sets in the 2019 final.
“I started bad the second set and then was able to come back, but then the game at 4-4, returning with the wind helping, I played a bad game and had a tricky situation serving to not lose the set. Well done to him, he played well,” said Nadal.
The Spaniard regrouped and grabbed a decisive break in the ninth game of the third set, winning the final nine games against a weary Schwartzman to close out victory.
“I needed to play a little bit more aggressive and I think I did later, so I am very happy for that,” added Nadal.
Defending champion Swiatek crashes out of French Open in quarter-finals
The curse of French Open defending champions continued as Iga Swiatek was knocked out 4-6, 4-6 by Greek Maria Sakkari in the French Open quarter-finals, leaving the women’s draw wide open on Wednesday.
The 20-year-old Pole, who took an off-court medical timeout early in the second set, was overwhelmed by Sakkari’s power and pace on court Philippe Chatrier with almost 5,000 spectators now allowed to attend.
World number nine Swiatek, bidding to become the first woman to retain her title since Justine Henin in 2007, got off to a confident start but lacked her usual poise against Sakkari, who dictated most of the points and was greatly helped by her opponent’s unforced errors.
Sakkari, the world number 18, will take on Czech Barbora Krejcikova for a place in Saturday’s final.
Russian 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova faces unseeded Slovenian Tamara Zidansek in the other semi-final.
“I wouldn’t have done it without my team, their support. It’s still a long way to go but we made a huge step today,” Sakkari said on court after her compatriot Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the last four in men’s draw on Tuesday.
“I just really enjoyed today. Before the start of the match I spoke to myself and said ‘It’s an important match but just enjoy because this is one of the best stadiums in the world’.”
Swiatek benefited from her opponent’s early nerve to go 2-0 up, but she was not exactly settled herself, allowing Sakkari to break back right away.
Swiatek found herself under constant pressure, and Sakkari broke back before stealing her serve again for 5-4 after forcing the Pole to misfire.
The defending champion struggled to cope with Sakkari’s brutal accelerations from the baseline and she showed her frustration on several occasions.
The Greek saved a break point in the 10th game before sealing the set with a superb backhand winner to end Swiatek’s 22-set winning streak in Paris.
Swiatek took a comfort break but her problems did not go away as she dropped serve in the first game of the second set with another forehand error.
Sakkari followed on serve to lead 2-0 and Swiatek called the trainer on court with an apparent leg problem before taking an off-court medical time out.
She returned with a strap on her right thigh and held serve, but Sakkari stayed solid on her own service games.
Serving for the match at 5-4 Sakkari went 40-0 ahead and after Swiatek saved two match points, she bowed on the third when her forehand sailed wide.
French Open: Gauff rues ‘passive’ play on set points in loss to Krejcikova
Coco Gauff has vowed to improve her decision-making on crucial points in future, after losing 7-6(6) 6-3 to 33rd-ranked Czech Barbora Krejcikova in the French Open quarter-finals on Wednesday despite having the upper hand.
Gauff, 17, had five set points in the opening set before Krejcikova turned the tables on the 24th seed in the tiebreak.
Krejcikova, 25, then raced into a 5-0 lead in the second set before clinching victory on her sixth match point to reach her first semi-final at Roland Garros.
“She played well in the pressure points. She also redirected the ball really well, kind of making me make mistakes. I knew she was going to play very smart tennis and play the high-percentage plays” Gauff told reporters.
“Next time… I’m definitely going to focus more on making less errors, just trusting myself on the set points. I feel like the set points I did have, I did play a little bit passive.
“That’s not kind of how I want to play tennis, I always want to play first-strike tennis. So that’s something I’ll work on.”
Gauff said the loss in what was her first Grand Slam quarter-final would be “on my mind for a couple days” but she is already looking ahead to Wimbledon, where she had a dream run to the last-16 in 2019.
“I’m excited to go back,” she said. “I think my most memorable thing I remember from Wimbledon is just the crowd experience.
“That was one of my first matches in a big stadium like that, playing against really great people like Venus Williams. It kind of just was the start of my career and making it on the pro tour.”
Gauff also said she had no qualms about travelling to Tokyo for the Olympics amid a pandemic.
“I’m definitely planning on playing the Olympics, I don’t have any concerns,” she added. “I’m just happy that even though today didn’t go my way, I guess my result here contributed to making the Olympics.”
French Open organisers ‘picked Amazon over people’: Daniil Medvedev
World number two Daniil Medvedev said French Open organisers “preferred Amazon to people” by scheduling his quarter-final match against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Tuesday’s night session, when fans are unable to attend due to a COVID-19 curfew.
Amazon has exclusive TV broadcast rights in France for the night sessions, which are taking place for the first time at Roland Garros. The late matches are being played without fans on Court Philippe-Chatrier because of the 9 p.m. curfew.
“Our match was definitely the match of the day, so Roland Garros preferred Amazon to people,” said Medvedev, who lost 6-3 7-6(3) 7-5 to Tsitsipas. “It’s easy as that.”
Tournament director Guy Forget told the Tennis Majors website last week organisers had a “commitment” with Amazon to put the match of the day in the night session slot.
Medvedev said the decision was driven by money and that it reminded him of the ‘Drive to Survive’ documentary series about Formula One, where the 2020 Australian Grand Prix was set to take place despite a COVID-19 outbreak in the paddock.
“When the pandemic started, they were in Australia ready to race and they asked Lewis Hamilton what he thought about racing in the conditions the world was in right now,” Medvedev said.
“He said, ‘I don’t know what we are doing here’. So they asked him, ‘Why do you think they make you race?’ He said ‘Cash is King’.
“It was the same here.” (AFP/Reuters)