So shaky when it came time to close out sets against Dominic Thiem, Diego Schwartzman held firm when he needed it most on Tuesday.
His reward, after five hours and eight minutes of grinding rallies and mounting pressure, was the most significant victory of his career and a spot in the French Open semifinals.
Schwartzman’s 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory put him into a Grand Slam singles semifinal for the first time. He will face either Rafael Nadal, the 12-time French Open champion whom Schwartzman defeated in the Italian Open last month, or Jannik Sinner, a 19-year-old newcomer from Italy.
Nadal and Sinner were scheduled to play their quarterfinal later on Tuesday night at Roland Garros.
But Schwartzman-Thiem will be a tough act to follow. It was a classic clay-court match full of long slides and extended rallies: many of which stretched past 20 strokes and left both players fluttering their lips or puffing out their cheeks.
Schwartzman, the No. 12 seed from Argentina, often looked like the fresher man against Thiem, who won his first major title at the United States Open last month. But Thiem, who can scrap for points as well as end them with his thunderous groundstrokes, kept pushing and swinging away.
Schwartzman kept cracking. With Thiem serving at 4-5 in the second set, Schwartzman had an easy forehand near the net that he would normally have smacked for a winner to take a 15-40 lead and two set points. Instead, Schwartzman missed into the net and Thiem went on to hold and even the match at one set apiece.
Schwartzman also served for the third set at 5-3 only to be broken at love, making four unforced errors. Thiem went on to save a set point and take a two-set-to-one lead.
“I was so nervous,” Schwartzman said. “I saw a chance today, and I didn’t take it in the second and third sets.”
It looked like he might make the same mistake again when he served for the fourth set at 5-4 and was broken once more. But he smiled through the pain and recovered to win the fourth-set tiebreaker after Thiem was two points from winning the match with a 5-4 lead.
He then broke Thiem’s serve twice in the fifth set to finish off the tennis marathon.
There will be no U.S. Open-French Open double in singles in this unique season. Thiem, a finalist at the French Open the last two years, tried to recover from his breakthrough victory in New York by taking two weeks off before playing at Roland Garros.
But he was pushed to five sets in the third round by French wild-card entry Hugo Gaston and was pushed even harder on Sunday by Schwartzman in the cool, heavy conditions that made clean winners a challenge.
It was a remarkable day for Argentine tennis. Earlier Tuesday, Nadia Podoroska became the first qualifier to reach the women’s singles semifinals at the French Open in the Open era. Podoroska, a 23-year-old playing for the first time in the main draw at Roland Garros, upset No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-4.
It was also Podoroska’s first singles match against a top 20 opponent, but however improbable on paper, the result looked quite logical on clay as Podoroska dictated play with her heavy topspin forehand and changed pace effectively with drop shot winners.
“What I improved most, I think, was my mentality,” Podoroska said.
It was the latest bravura performance by a new arrival at Roland Garros this year, and it guaranteed that there will be an unseeded women’s singles finalist. Podoroska will face Iga Swiatek or Martina Trevisan, another qualifier, in the semifinals.
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