Rafael Nadal suffered a rare clay loss Saturday in the Rome Masters quarterfinals. The 9-time Rome champion fell for the first time in his career to Diego Schwartzman in convincing fashion 6-2, 7-5.
Schwartzman, who was 0-9 against Nadal coming in, was simply the better player from start to finish. Schartzman hung firm from the baseline, going strong off the ground. Nadal was on his best day, spraying errors which amounted to 30 to the Argentine’s 17.
Schwartzman broke Nadal twice in the first set. Nadal started to play better in the second, but Schwartzman got another break. With a chance at his first win over the King of Clay, Schwartzman fell apart serving for it at 5-4. However, he was able to promptly break Nadal immediately and then served it out for arguably the biggest win of his career.
“For sure it’s my best match ever,” said Schwartzman who broke Nadal five times. “I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I’m very happy.
“It was crazy. Tennis is crazy. Our performance is always crazy. The past three weeks were really bad for me,” he added. “Today I played my best tennis. Very similar to Roland Garros against Rafa three years ago and I’m very happy. I was not thinking to beat him really because I was not playing good. But today I did my best and I’m very happy.”
Nadal now heads into the French Open having played just one single event.
“It was not my night at all. He played a great match I think,” Nadal said. “When this happens, you have to lose. These things can happen. After such a long time without competing, I played two good matches, and now today I played a bad one against a good opponent.
“That’s how it is. I just want to congratulate Diego and I’m going to keep working.”
Nadal’s loss leaves Djokovic a golden chance to win his fifth Rome and 36th Masters title.
The Serb, though, struggled today with qualifier Dominik Koepfer in a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Djokovic finished just 6/21 on break chances.
“Has a good pop on the serve, so you have to guess,” said Djokovic of Koepfer. “He steps in when he is feeling the ball, he steps in on both the forehand and backhand and moves well. I think his game is really ideal for this surface and him reaching the quarterfinals proves he is in good form.”
Djokovic will be a huge favorite tomorrow against first-time Masters semifinalist Casper Ruud who shocked Italian Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5).
“Clay is definitely preferred surface,” Djokovic said of Ruud. “This is where he feels most comfortable. Semifinals and it is anybody’s game.
“I’ll do some homework and be ready for that one.”
Schwartzman will now take on Denis Shapovalov who collected his 100th career match win besting Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.
“Grigor’s a player I’ve looked up to from juniors. I really love the way he plays,” Shapovalov said. “He’s beaten me twice before, so it’s really nice to get the win and it’s a huge step for my career.”
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