Rafael Nadal lost his first set at the French Open since 2015 but that blip did not prevent the 10-times champion from marching into the semifinals with a 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory over Diego Schwartzman in their rain-delayed match on Thursday.
The world No. 1 had looked out of sorts in damp conditions on Wednesday as Schwartzman bombarded him with winners to cause him all sorts of problems, with the Argentine leading by a set and a break when the players were first called off court due to rain.
Upon resumption, the Spaniard gradually improved before rain brought an early end to the day with Nadal on the brink of winning the second set.
It was a very different story when the contest resumed on Thursday in drier conditions as Nadal won 12 of the first 13 points before cruising into the last four.
The 16-times Grand Slam champion will face another Argentine, fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro, for a place in Sunday’s final.
“It was a very difficult match against a very good friend and a very good player. I think that after the rain interruption I played much better, I was more aggressive,” said Nadal.
Despite entering the contest with a stupendous 83-2 win-loss record at Roland Garros, Nadal is known to suffer jitters early and Schwartzman capitalized on those nerves to break for a 2-1 lead in the opening set.
Nadal broke straight back by raising his own level.
But as the Spaniard struggled to win points on his first serve, he was broken again for 5-4 and Schwartzman served for the set.
He fired long on a first set point, Nadal saved the second with a jaw-dropping drop shot but on the third, just after the match was interrupted for a few minutes while an unwell spectator was evacuated, Schwartzman unleashed a stunning forehand winner down the line – his 20th winner.
Nadal had both his wrists bandaged before the start of the second set but that failed to offer much help as he sent a forehand long to hand another break to Schwartzman, who led 40-0 in the following game, only for his opponent to break back.
But Schwartzman continued to be the aggressor as Nadal played too short, or too long. The Argentine broke Nadal for a fifth time to go 3-2 ahead.
A 45-minute rain delay allowed Nadal to regroup, and it may have extinguished Schwartzman’s fire as the Spaniard won three games in a row to put himself in a position to serve for the set – only to be thwarted with another downpour that halted proceedings on Wednesday.
The match resumed on Thursday and on a dry court favouring Nadal’s huge topspin, the diminutive Schwartzman’s aggressive tactics failed to make the same impact. Nadal stayed closer to his baseline and it was clear that he had rediscovered his touch.
Nadal, who had won 37 completed sets at Roland Garros before losing the first on Wednesday, was back to his old merciless self on Thursday as he belted 26 winners in the last two sets – compared to the eight he had produced during the opening two.
He got nervous again, however, in the last game, needing four match points to secure victory.