Rafael Nadal is looking in ominous form as the nine-time Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters champion prepares to face Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals on Friday.
After storming past Alexander Zverev at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Rafael Nadal continues his hunt for a tenth title as he takes on Diego Schwartzman in Friday’s quarterfinals.
Nadal’s match against Alexander ‘Sascha’ Zverev was the most eagerly anticipated of Thursday’s round-of-16 encounters at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters – Zverev, one of the brightest talents of the ATP World Tour’s younger generation, had pushed Nadal the distance in both their previous meetings, at Indian Wells in 2016 and at the Australian Open in January, each of which were extremely entertaining matches. Moreover, Nadal, while the undisputed King of Clay and a nine-time champion at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, had been pushed to a third set by Kyle Edmund in the second round, which suggested at least enough vulnerability on his part to make for an exciting match.
Instead of a third thriller, however, Nadal vs Zverev turned out to be the most straightforward match of the day, with other top seeds Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic losing or at least struggling with their lower-ranked opponents while Nadal absolutely crushed Zverev 6-1, 6-1. Losing just nine points on serve and keeping pace with Zverev in the winner stakes while holding his unforced errors to a bare minimum – I watched the match and can remember one genuinely unforced error from Nadal throughout the entire two sets – Nadal was aggressive, sharp and dominant. It’s always a danger to extrapolate too much from one match, particularly when one player is not having their best day – and Zverev, who turned 20 on Thursday, was not good – but Nadal looked in excellent form and it’s tempting to reinterpret his season so far, which has included runner-up finishes at the Australian Open, Acapulco and Miami, as indicative less of Nadal as a fading force and more as a prelude to a resurgent clay-court season.
All of this is rather getting ahead of oneself but I do want to make the point that Nadal was just that impressive against the admittedly limp Zverev, reeling off nine straight games from 1-1 in the first set and closing out the win when the German double-faulted after just 68 minutes. And with Murray and Wawrinka already out, Roger Federer not playing and Novak Djokovic struggling against both Gilles Simon and Pablo Carreno Busta on his way to the quarterfinals, ‘La Decima’ at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters – the first of three clay-court events where Nadal will be going for an incredible tenth title this year, the others being the Barcelona Open and Roland Garros – is looking like a distinct possibility.
Next up for Nadal is a dogged but underpowered opponent in the form of Diego Schwartzman, the plucky Argentine who will come into Friday’s quarterfinal clash a distinct underdog.
Before this year, Schwartzman had never been past the second round of a Masters 1000 Series event but he made the third round of the Miami Masters a few weeks ago, beating Karen Khachanov and David Ferrer before losing to David Goffin in three sets, and he has been quietly in fine form at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, beating Bernard Tomic, 12th seed Roberto Bautista Agut and finally Jan-Lennard Struff in straight sets – 6-3, 6-0 against Struff, in fact, despite (or perhaps partly because of) the fact that the German had beaten Grigor Dimitrov the previous night.
24-year-old Schwartzman came into the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters at a career-high world no. 41. The Argentine won his first career title in Istanbul in 2016 under slightly strange circumstances – the final is uniformly remembered solely for Grigor Dimitrov’s unfortunate meltdown, in which he lost control from a winning position and ended up deliberately defaulting himself by smashing his remaining racquets – and also won the Baranquilla and Montevideo Challenger titles on clay, as well as finishing runner-up at the indoor hard-court European Open in Antwerp in October when he beat Pablo Cuevas and David Goffin before losing to Richard Gasquet. So far in 2017, the Argentine was a quarterfinalist in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo – like fellow surprise quarterfinalists Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Pablo Cuevas, and unlike the top players, he has played quite a bit of clay-court tennis already in 2017 – and made the aforementioned run to the third round in Miami, but his run at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters represents the best result of his season so far, and one of the finest of his career.
Schwartzman has never beaten a top-10 player in nine previous attempts and is 0-2 against Nadal, losing 2-6, 2-6 on clay in Acapulco in 2013 and a much tighter match at the US Open in 2015 6-7(5), 3-6, 5-7. A great mover and dogged competitor, Schwartzman at 5’7” is not a physically imposing figure and really lacks the physical presence and weapons to dictate in the ways that would really let him go toe-to-toe with Nadal and it’s difficult to see how he’s going to be able to win more than a handful of games from Nadal on the kind of form the nine-time Monte-Carlo Masters champion was in against Zverev on Thursday.
Nadal vs Schwartzman is scheduled on Court Rainer III on Friday at 5pm local/4pm BST