Even Kings have off days.
Wednesday Rafa wasn’t Rafa.
His forehand didn’t pin Diego Schwartzman. His movement was modest. He left his usual (“I’m Rafa and you’re not”) swagger back in the locker room. Little Diego Schwartzman, Argentina’s 5’ 7” mighty mite, shocked the world, blasting 20 winners while winning the set 6-4. Rafa had only four winners and suffered 14 unforced errors
Then the match was halted for nearly an hour due to rain. Rafa re-tooled and was within two points of evening the battle when the match was called for the day.
Some Rafa backer somewhere had to take refuge in the closing line of “Gone with the Wind” – “tomorrow is another day.” And indeed it was.
Speaking of “gone” – gone today was the tentative Spanish clay Royal who had wondered why the Argentinian commoner was creating such a ruckus. Instead, Rafa stepped it up big time. Under a sunny sky, with the clay now playing fast, Rafa quickly won 12 of 13 points. He collected the second set 6-3. The man who shatters your game and demolishes your spirit put his full arsenal on play: power, spin, depth, aggression, court positioning. He won in every imaginable way – blasting his forehand, playing amazing defense-to-offense tennis and crafting clever cat-and-mouse points.
Yes, Rafa struggled on serve and had to save four break points in a marathon game to close out the set 6-2 and to go up two sets to one over his plucky foe.
Now sensibility had been restored to tennis. Only two men had ever beaten Nadal on this court. There is no such thing as a moral victory. Schwartzman’s 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 loss to his good friend had to sting. The match was much closer than the scoreline. The Argentine did win a set off of Rafa after Nadal had won 38 straight over his past three French Opens.
Schwartzman drew ecstatic cheers and adoring chants of “Dee-a-go!” His display was heroic. He did showcase his feisty resistance and fabulous “small ball” play to the cheering throng. Inch-for-inch, he could be the best guy in the game. He has such intent. His shots have surprising pop. His corner-to-corner scampers delight. Now he could become the first player 5’7″ or smaller since Harold Solomon 37 years ago to crack the top 10.
But Schwartzman not only had to beat Rafa, he had to defy the rain gods, who seemed to be in the Spaniard’s camp. Now Rafa has become (with Federer and Connors) only the third player to reach 11 semis of a single Slam. Many of his prime foes – Zverev, Djokovic and of course Federer – are gone. His next foe is Juan Martin del Potro, who won a lively, two day “Battle of the 6’6” Giants” over Croatian Marin Cilic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.
Delpo, who is in his first French Open semi since 2009, has a 5-9 losing record against Rafa. Few will back the Indian Wells winner.
But you never know. As the considerable Scarlett O’Hara told us, “Tomorrow is another Day.”