Tennis

Diego Schwartzman eyeing an encore against Rafael Nadal

Schwartzman books French Open s-final date with clay-court king, after beating him in Italy last month

Having disposed of the reigning US Open winner Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros, Argentinian Diego Schwartzman will now be aiming to wreck the dreams of defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal.

Schwartzman, the 12th seed, shocked third seed Thiem 7-6 (7/1), 5-7, 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 over five hours yesterday morning (Singapore time) to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.

Standing in his way tomorrow will be second seed Nadal, who is seeking a 13th French Open crown.

The odds are stacked against the 28-year-old in his showdown with the Spanish clay-court master, who defeated Italian teenager Jannik Sinner 7-6, (7/4), 6-4, 6-1 in another quarter-final.

But Schwartzman knows that the 34-year-old Spaniard is not at all invincible, having beaten him last month en route to reaching the Italian Open final.

He said: "Rafa is the legend here, is the owner of this place.

"If I see the history, I'm 10-1 down. I'm not sure if I'm going to have a lot of confidence. But, yeah, I know this week that I can beat him. That's the important thing."

Standing at 1.70m, Schwartzman is the shortest man in the world's top 50 players.

But the man affectionately known as "El Peque" (Spanish for shorty) is now scaling new heights and daring to dream.

His confidence has been boosted immensely after his win over Thiem, a victory that he admitted nearly did not happen.

It was a battle of attrition and at one point - when he saw a 5-4, 40/0 fourth-set lead evaporate against the 27-year-old Austrian - Schwartzman thought he would have to wait for another day to make the breakthrough.

Memories of his last-eight exits at the 2017 and 2019 US Open and at the 2018 French Open played on his mind.

Schwartzman said on the ATP Tour website: "It was a tough situation because in the fourth, (Thiem) started playing so well. I made the comeback, serving at 5-4, 40/0.

"He played three unreal points, amazing points, because he's one of the best and he can do it. At that time I was thinking, 'Okay, c'mon, today it's not going to happen'.

"I had a lot of opportunities - easy, tough ones, hard. Every single opportunity was different. I didn't take them… I played an amazing tie-break in the fourth. In the fifth, I keep doing the same thing, being solid.

"At the end, I think (I) physically finished better than him."

It was one marathon too many for Thiem, the runner-up in Paris for the last two years, who needed five sets and 31/2 hours to beat world No. 239 Hugo Gaston in the fourth round.

"I was over the limit today," said Thiem. "At the net, I just told him that he deserves it. I think he's for the first time (entered) top 10 with that win. That's also great achievement."

ARGENTINIANS ADVANCE

Schwartman's success came not long after compatriot Nadia Podoroska, the world No. 131, kept alive her dream of becoming the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final by stunning third seed Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-4 in the quarter-finals.

Podoroska, 23, will next face Polish teenager Iga Swiatek, 19, who defeated Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-1.

There will be a familiar face in the other women's semi-final, after Czech seventh seed Petra Kvitova breezed past the unseeded Laura Siegemund 6-3, 6-3 yesterday.

Roland Garros was where Kvitova, 30, made an emotional return to professional tennis in 2017 after a six-month layoff following a burglar attack at her home that left her with severe damage to the nerves and tendons in her left hand.

"It means a lot to me, definitely," said Kvitova, who had also reached the French Open semi-final in 2012. "I didn't dream to be in a semi-final after everything that happened. Right now, it's my lucky place."

She will meet Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who defeated Danielle Collins 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. - REUTERS, AFP

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