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Ricky’s Preview and Picks for Day 10 of the French Open Tennis • Nadal vs. Sinner and Thiem vs. Schwartzman

No. 12-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina is bidding to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros.

By Ricky Dimon

A blockbuster French Open men’s singles quarterfinal lineup begins on Tuesday, when Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem continue on their collision course for the semis. But it may not be easy for them. Nadal is going up against Jannik Sinner, while Thiem faces good friend and familiar foe Diego Schwartzman.

Ricky previews the action and makes his predictions.

(12) Diego Schwartzman vs. (3) Dominic Thiem

Thiem is back in the French Open quarterfinals for a fifth consecutive time. But it hasn’t been easy. Or at least it wasn’t on Sunday. From two sets up, Thiem found himself in a fifth set against little-known French wild card Hugo Gaston before surviving 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3. The U.S. Open champion had previously routed Marin Cilic, Jack Sock, and Jack Sock, but those performances hardly mean anything given his struggles against Gaston. Although it was a high-quality match for the most part, it was not what Thiem needed heading into the business end of the tournament.

“Obviously (the) last weeks were tough,” the world No. 3 admitted. “I’m not running on a full tank anymore; that’s for sure. So I’m trying to do everything to have a great recovery, to have a good day off tomorrow, and then go out on Tuesday as fit as possible. If I’m able to do that, it’s going to be an exciting match.”

That match will come against Schwartzman, one of Thiem’s best friends on tour. The head-to-head series stands at 6-2 in favor of the Austrian, who has won three of their four previous clay-court encounters. They faced each other twice on the slow stuff last season, when Schwartzman prevailed 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) in Buenos Aires before Thiem cruised 6-3, 5-3 in Barcelona.

Schwartzman returned from the coronavirus hiatus with a trio of disappointing results, but he is suddenly playing the best tennis of his career. The 14th-ranked Argentine finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic in Rome, stunning Rafael Nadal in the process, and is now through to the Roland Garros quarterfinals for the second time. So far this fortnight Schwartzman has taken out Miomir Kecmanovic, Lorenzo Giustino, Norbert Gombos, and Lorenzo Sonego all in straight sets.

“After [Thiem’s match] I was on the bike stretching,” the 28-year-old said. “After that, Domi arrived and we were kidding, ‘Okay, this is the last time we talk each other until Tuesday.’ He was [motioning] like he was going to hit me in my legs.”

It is Thiem’s legs that could be the issue on Tuesday. With the recent Grand Slam champ running on fumes both mentally and physically, and Schwartzman on fire, an upset could be in the cards.

Pick: Schwartzman in 5

Reigning Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal has dropped just 23 games in four tournament victories.

Jannik Sinner vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

Nadal is 97-2 lifetime at Roland Garros. Sinner had never played a match there prior to this fortnight. It will be mismatch in terms of both resume’s and playing styles when Nadal and Sinner collide in the French Open quarterfinals on Tuesday. Given that the Italian has only been on the main tour for a little more than year, it comes as no surprise that this marks their first-ever head-to-head matchup.

Unfortunately for Sinner, this is not exactly the setting at which he would choose to face Nadal. The second-ranked Spaniard’s record at Roland Garros includes 12 titles and a current winning streak of 26 matches in a row. Although Nadal returned from the coronavirus hiatus with a loss to Diego Schwartzman in the Rome quarterfinals, he has picked up the pace in Paris with straight-set routs of Egor Gerasimov, Mackenzie McDonald, Stefano Travaglia, and Sebastian Korda.

“Obviously I’m playing against Rafa here in Roland Garros; it’s not the easiest thing, for sure,” Sinner said. “I mean, I think the record he has here…I think nobody can beat that. He is super confident here. So, you know, it’s going to be a difficult match for sure.

“(The goal is to) always to go on court with the right attitude, trying to play your best tennis–which I have to do if I want to play at the same level as he plays.”

Sinner’s own level has been outstanding, as he has surrendered just one set while producing the best result of his career. The 19-year-old disposed of David Goffin, Benjamin Bonzi, and Federico Coria in straight sets before ousting Alexander Zverev in four on Sunday. Sinner, who upset Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to the Rome third round last month, will break into the top 50 even if he loses on Tuesday.

“He’s improving every single week,” Nadal noted. “So he’s playing better and better and better. It will be a big challenge. It will be the first time playing against him on the tour. I practiced with him a couple of times; he has an amazing potential.”

Sinner has the kind of game that can give the second seed problems. He stands at 6’2”, hits big serves and even bigger forehands, and wields a rock-solid two-hander off the backhand side. And he also moves extremely well for his size. Of course, Korda has a similar style–and he won only four games! Sure, Sinner is much further along than Korda right now; but Nadal’s dominance so far this fortnight does not bode well for the youngster. Expect flashes of brilliance from Sinner, but little sustained success.

Pick: Nadal in 3

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.