So down to four. We have Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin Del Potro and then Marco Cecchinato! Marco who? That’s right. Marco Cecchinato. An impossible pick to reach this spot, but there he is, a guy who had never won a Grand Slam match before.
A guy who was lucky to not have been busted for match-fixing some years ago. A guy who cruised past Pablo Carreno Busta, overwhelmed David Goffin and just showed more fight than Novak Djokovic. That’s Marco Ceccinato. And that’s our final four at the biggest clay court event on the calendar.
As for today’s rain-delayed quarterfinals from the top half, things wrapped up as we would have thought.
Rafa was under serious pressure in the slop early against Diego Schwartzman, down a set and a break before the rains. Obviously, the delay affected the Argentine, but it’s hard to say if that had it not rained, Diego could have actually finished him off. Maybe? Maybe not?
Diego had the momentum and had Rafa on his heels, something we rarely see at Roland Garros. So give Schwartzman a lot of credit for the fight and for handing Rafa his first set loss in three years. For a little guy, he packs a punch and really took it to Rafa who, in the muddy conditions, couldn’t generate his nasty spins and pace.
Well, sadly for the Schwartzman the sun was out today in full force and Rafa rolled 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
After, Rafa talked about the early issues.
“I was not opening court with the backhand. I was playing too behind the baseline. He was taking the ball earlier than me,” Nadal said. “I had the feeling he had the control of the point too many times to have the chance to be successful. And then I think after that I changed, I increased the intensity, increased the determination on how to play my shots. I won a little bit of court playing closer to the baseline, so the match changed drastically.”
“It’s always tough against Rafa. Totally focused, plays 100 percent tennis. Yesterday I was doing many winners, not many unforced errors. He was not playing his best tennis. Maybe it was the day when you can beat Rafa,” Schwartzman said. “Today he started playing totally different. Aggressive, doing winners, no mistakes. So the match changed a lot.”
So Rafa moves on to an 11th French semifinal (most players don’t even play 11 French Opens!).
On Lenglen, Del Potro and Cilic resumed in a precarious spot, 5-all in the first set breaker. Delpo got both points and the first set, then held on for a tough 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 victory.
With Rafa playing at the same time the match wasn’t on TV, but credit to Delpo for coming from a break down in the third. The difference probably comes down to the fact that going into the match Delpo had won 7 straight over the Croat. 7!! Well, it’s now 8!
Recall Del Potro might not have even played the French due to that groin injury from Rome. Yet here he is in his first French semifinal in nine years since 2009! After all he had been through the last 4-5 years, he even teared-up after the match.
“I’m feeling so, so happy that I made the right decision for play here,” said Del Potro. “I am doing well. Of course, I didn’t expect to get in semifinals a couple of weeks before. But now I’m here, and I’m still alive. Physically I’m good, and hopefully I can be ready for tomorrow.
“Everybody knows that I was close to quitting this sport two years ago, but I never give up. I have been trying and trying every day to fix the problem in my wrist. And in the end, I got it, and now I’m having a great present, looking forward for the future. Of course, I didn’t expect to be in the Top 5 again, to reach semifinals at the big tournament after all my injuries.”
Good to have Delpo back!
So to the semifinals tomorrow.
Dominic Thiem v Marco Cecchinato
For the incredible effort and all the great wins, you just have to think Cecchinato’s run ends here. Is anyone picking him here to win?
And after losses in this round the last two years to Djokovic and Nadal, Thiem is never going to a better chance at reaching the final of a Grand Slam than Friday, and because of that, and with the way the Austrian’s playing, he will take advantage of it.
“I won the last match against Thiem, I think, I remember this match, it was the final in one Future,” Cecchinato said referring to a Futures win. “Why not? I want to believe I can also beat Dominic Thiem.”
And that’s a great attitude to have. But Thiem has been pounding the ball all week. And if it is a little wet and heavy, that should help.
My only concern is that he has been in this spot twice before – and failed – and he’s going to be such a big favorite. So the pressure is going to be on Thiem big time, while Cecchinato can just swing freely much like he has been doing.
“I’m a better player in general now, for sure,” said Thiem. “I think this year I’m physically and mentally fresher than I have been the last two years. I know how to handle a Grand Slam now, how to get that deep in such a tournament, and I think everything gets better with experience.”
Experience and form should win here.
The Pick: Thiem in 3
Rafael Nadal v Juan Martin Del Potro
In their 15th meeting, Nadal has won nine including the US Open semifinals last fall. They’ve only met a couple times on the clay, most recently way back at the end of 2011 during the Davis Cup final, and Rafa’s won both.
The key Friday will really be how healthy Del Potro is. I don’t care much about the conditions – Schwartzman is a roadrunner, Delpo isn’t it’s two different matchups – but I care about Delpo’s legs.
If Delpo’s ok after going nearly four hours the last two days, he’ll be in with a chance. If he isn’t it will be over quick.
We know Rafa will be fit – he wasn’t under much pressure Thursday against Schwartzman – so this match hinges in Delpo. If he is good, he can do some damage and use his awesome power to go at Rafa. Serve, forehand, backhand etc.
Of course on clay, it won’t be as easy to pound those winners. So Delpo’s going to have to work a little more than on hard court. And the longer the point, the more of an issue for Delpo who doesn’t want to be moving side-to-side, like a Schwartzman would happily do. Delpo is a quick-strike guy.
“Diego and me have completely different games. I mean, one of his best are his legs, his movement on the clay,” Delpo said. “And I like to play short points, hitting flat, even the surface.
“But tomorrow I will try to play a match as I did in a different surface against Rafa, but he’s lefty and what I say before my match against Ramos, a lefty player has advantage with me because he can find easily my backhand, and he knows what my backhand is at the moment.
“But anyways, I will try to do my best, to play my best tennis, and see if I can do a good match.”
Yup, Rafa forehand to the Delpo backhand is advantage Rafa!
Another problem is best-of-5. In a three set match, Delpo could certainly get hot, get on a run, etc. But best-of-5, on clay, against Rafa in the semifinals of a Slam where Rafa’s so darn tough is asking a lot. Delpo couldn’t do it in New York so I just don’t see how on clay and in Roland Garros gives him a better chance.
Again, Delpo has to go for broke. But it won’t be enough.
The Pick: Rafa in 4
So what would be the bigger surprise, Marco winning or Delpo? I might have to say Marco. I just can’t see Thiem screwing this one up – if he did it could do some serious long-term damage.
As for Delpo, the guy has shown he can win big matches. But I just don’t think his legs are going to be there.
That said, Rafa has to lose sometime…(maybe it’s Sunday!)
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