October 7, 2020
Rafael Nadal is on the charge – and the King of Clay has another great chance to reach the Roland Garros final.
Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman provides his last big test before the French Open showpiece.
Schwartzman downed US Open champion Dominic Thiem after more than five hours of scintillating rallies and breathtaking tie-breaks.
As we suggested before, Thiem was always in danger of running out of fuel after all his recent exertions.
That sizeable tank was almost empty towards the end or his previous classic against Hugo Gaston. Another marathon was never likely to end well for Domi.
This latest epic clash shouldn’t really have gone to five sets, thrilling as it was.
Schwartzman had golden chances to win every set that he played against Thiem, one of his very best friends.
But in the end the South American edged it anyway, 7-6 (7-1), 5-7, 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2.
A smiling Domi knew the right man had won on the night. And Nadal won’t necessarily be disappointed to see Thiem defeated.
Remember how the Austrian took a set off Nadal in the final here last year?
Rafa may feel more comfortable with the prospect of facing Schwartzman, although on this kind of form, Diego will fear no one.
But is Nadal showing the sort of form that will earn him an incredible thirteenth Roland Garros title?
The simple and perhaps surprising answer is no. Not yet, anyway.
Many may react to that with incredulity. Nadal is breezing through. He hasn’t dropped a set.
Young Italian Jannik Sinner provided a very stern examination in the first set of their quarter-final – until Nadal took complete control of the tie-break.
From that point on, Rafa managed to tame the devilish Sinner forehand with all the experience of a master.
But there was something less than entirely convincing about Nadal’s performance.
The movement wasn’t quite there, despite the victory. The serve is still vulnerable. All guns were not blazing.
Of course they weren’t, you could justifiably argue. The match finished at 1.30am in temperatures of just twelve degrees.
Nadal later complained that conditions were potentially dangerous to his muscles in a stop-start sport like tennis.
But will the conditions be entirely to his liking this Sunday either? This is Paris in October, after all.
Nadal hasn’t played a truly great opponent yet at this year’s Roland Garros. He hasn’t even needed to call upon his A-game. But is it there right now?
Maybe it is, and the best of Nadal is yet to come on his favoured surface. Any suspicions could be entirely unfounded.
Let’s face it, only a fool would write off Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
And yet a tiny lingering doubt remains. Nadal doesn’t look entirely Grand-Slam fit after his long lay-off.
Some of his customary sharpness, speed, power and accuracy are still not quite there.
Yes, he has made light work of this Slam so far. So any doubts may seem utterly unfounded to the majority.
But what will happen if Nadal comes up against Djokovic in the Roland Garros final?
Novak looks closer to his very best at this point. He is very hungry for another French Open title.
He wants to show Rafa he can beat the great man in a French Open final. He’d love to leave that one in the history books.
Also, Djokovic is fiercely determined to put the personal disaster of the US Open behind him.
Who will win if Nadal plays Djokovic? It should be a fantastic match but don’t count on the clay-court specialist holding sway.
Things could change rapidly. But based purely on what we have seen so far, it looks more likely that the winner will be Novak.
We’ll be delighted to be proved wrong – as long as the Roland Garros final proves to be an incredible occasion.
But what matters most to us is that all these heroes shine at Wimbledon 2021, along with the legendary Roger Federer.
Nadal should be back to maximum match fitness long before Wimbledon 2021.
The all-time-greats are practically guaranteed to make those Championships something truly special.
We firmly believe that Wimbledon 2021 could be the greatest of all time. Federer has all of 2021 to get ready for the grass.
But for now, let’s just see how this fascinating French Open unfolds.
So many times before, Rafael Nadal has made a mockery of those who doubted him at Roland Garros.
Will he do so again? Or will Djokovic win through and then produce a repeat of his quarter-final victory in 2015 and humble his great rival on Rafa’s favourite court?
Either way, we’ll hope for the dream final because these two legends never disappoint.