PARIS — Diego Schwartzman played through the wind and rain, and into the dark of night, against Dominic Thiem at the French Open, contesting a total of 376 points spread out across five sets and 5 hours, 8 minutes, knowing all the while he’d never won a match of this magnitude.
And so, as he kept wasting chances to seize control of their quarterfinal Tuesday night, kept letting sets slip away, Schwartzman yelled at himself or at his coaches, put his hands on his hips or smirked at his mistakes.
Then, two points from defeat against the U.S. Open champion and two-time runner-up at Roland Garros, Schwartzman found his way and emerged with a 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory Tuesday by taking the last four games against a fading Thiem.
“I mean, we both gave everything,” said the No. 3-seeded Thiem, who is good friends with Schwartzman. “The thing in tennis is that there is one loser, one winner. Despite (being) so disappointed, I’m still happy for him.”
The 12th-seeded Schwartzman next will face 12-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, whose 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-1 victory over 19-year-old Jannik Sinner of Italy didn’t start until after 10:30 p.m. and didn’t finish until nearly 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The 28-year-old from Argentina entered his match against Thiem with an 0-3 record in major quarterfinals. He acknowledged that weighed on him.
“I was just so nervous,” Schwartzman said. “I saw the chance today.”
Schwartzman‘s edginess was on display a few times. He couldn’t believe it when chair umpire Louise Azemar Engzell appeared to get a call wrong in the first set. He argued with her again later when she wouldn’t halt the match despite a rain shower, saying: “How do you know it’s playable or not … íf you are sitting there, and we are playing?”
It was a grueling contest in which more than 100 of the points lasted at least nine strokes — frequently going past 20 or even 30 shots. Good as he is at speeding along the baseline on those kinds of extended exchanges, Schwartzman did some of his best work at the net, winning the point on 62% of his trips forward.
The 5-foot-7 Schwartzman‘s serve is a liability, his biggest weakness and, so far, impediment to greater success. But while he lost nine of his service games, he made up for that with one of his many other skills — returning — and broke Thiem 10 times.
The ninth break put Schwartzman up 4-2 in the fifth when Thiem netted a backhand, and the last ended it, when Thiem put two drop shots into the net.
Thiem had been 17-1 in Grand Slam action this year, including a run to the final at the Australian Open in February. He also had won 26 of his past 30 matches at Roland Garros, with the losses all coming against Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.
But all of the energy expended by Thiem‘s legs and mind over the past five weeks, in New York and in Paris, took a toll, including a five-setter in his previous match. From early on against Schwartzman, Thiem would bail out of points by trying mediocre drop shots, a bit of foreshadowing of the day’s denouement.
“To be honest, I was over the limit today,” Thiem said, describing himself as “physically and mentally on the edge.”
The whole thing could have been over much sooner at Court Philippe Chatrier, where the new $55 million retractable roof was left open despite occasional drizzles.
Schwartzman kept racing ahead, only to get reeled back in, often a result of his own miscues.
He led the second set 5-4 and was two points away from claiming it. Couldn’t, though.
He served for the third set while up 5-3, but got broken at love thanks to a quartet of unforced errors. Then, at 5-4, he held a set point. Again, couldn’t convert.
He led the fourth 5-3, and held three set points while serving for it at 5-4. Could not cash any in.
“At that time,” Schwartzman said, “I was thinking, ‘OK, come on, today is not going to happen.’”
Still, Thiem was unable to find the finish line, either. He twice was two points from winning at 6-5 in fourth set, and again at 5-all in that tiebreaker.
“To win that match, I should have done it in four,” said Thiem, who was trying to become only the fourth man in the Open era, which began in 1968, to get to at least the semifinals in Paris for five consecutive years. “In the fifth set, he was just a little more fresh and better than me.”
The good news for Schwartzman — because of how much his win took out of him — and for Nadal — because of how late his win went — is that they both get plenty of time to rest now: Their semifinal is not until Friday.
“Now I have, well, I would say two days off, but almost 1 1/2,” Nadal said with a laugh. “But, yes, now it’s two days to practice, to rest a little bit and to recover, and just try to be ready for that semifinal.”
“I know … that I can beat him,” Schwartzman said. “That’s important.”
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