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Tennis • Ricky’s Preview and Picks for the French Open Semifinals: Nadal vs. Schwartzman and Djokovic vs. Tsitsipas

Reigning Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal will try to avenge his Rome loss to Diego Schwartzman in the French Open semifinals.

By Ricky Dimon

U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem may have fallen short of the French Open semifinals, but Friday’s lineup remains worthy of popcorn. Diego Schwartzman, who just beat Rafael Nadal on clay three weeks ago, crashed the party and will get another shot at the 12-time Roland Garros champion. The second semi pits Novak Djokovic against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Ricky previews the action and makes his predictions.

(12) Diego Schwartzman vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

Schwartzman has been the biggest story of the abbreviated 2020 clay-court swing. He upset Nadal en route to the Rome final and outlasted Thiem in a French Open quarterfinal match that lasted more than five hours. Nadal in Rome and Thiem at Roland-Garros were extremely tough tests, and now Schwartzman faces the toughest test of all: Nadal at the French.

Friday’s meeting will be the 11th of their careers, and the Argentine’s victory last month in Rome was his first. Nadal had previously been sweeping the head-to-head series 9-0, including 22-2 in total sets. One of those sets won by Schwartzman came at none other than the French Open, when Nadal prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the 2018 quarterfinals.

Nobody has managed to take a set off the King of Clay this fortnight even though fall conditions in Paris may not be as ideal for him as they are in May and June. Nadal eased his way into the semifinals by beating Egor Gerasimov, Mackenzie McDonald, Stefano Travaglia, Sebastian Korda, and Jannik Sinner.

Schwartzman obviously remains in outstanding form on the heels of his runner-up performance in Rome. The world No. 14, who will crack the top 10 for the first time in his career next week, preceded his triumph over Thiem with defeats of Miomir Kecmanovic, Lorenzo Giustino, Norbert Gombos, and Lorenzo Sonego. He had not surrendered a set prior to going up against Thiem.

The Rome result may be big for Schwartzman’s confidence, but it does little to suggest he can do the same in Paris. After all, a best-of-five situation is a whole different beast and so is the stage of Roland-Garros–where Nadal is a laughable 98-2 lifetime. Two days off will help Schwartzman, who will be fine physically at the start. It is at the business end of the match when the underdog will start to feel the effects of the Thiem match in his legs. Moreover, the conditions are not as bad for Nadal as advertised, so he has every reason to take care of business and avenge the recent Rome loss.

Pick: Nadal in 4

Stefanos Tsitsipas faces world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Friday’s French Open semifinals.

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (5) Stefanos Tsitsipas

Djokovic and Tsitsipas will be squaring off for the sixth time in their careers. The head-to-head series stands at 3-2 in favor of the world No. 1, who won their only previous clay-court encounter 6-3, 6-4 at last year’s Madrid Masters. He triumphed by the exact same scoreline in the Dubai final earlier this season. Tsitsipas’ victories have come at the 2018 Rogers Cup (6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3) and at the Shanghai Masters last fall (3-6, 7-5, 6-3).

The Greek will not shy away from facing Djokovic on the big stage of a Grand Slam for the first time. Although he is still seeking his first slam final appearance, Tsitsipas seems to love the brightest lights; he also reached the semis at the 2019 Australian Open (upset Roger Federer in the proces) and won the Nitto ATP Finals later that year. He has been incredible since losing his first two sets of this fortnight to Jaume Munar, winning his next 15 sets in succession–including three straight against a red-hot Andrey Rublev on Wednesday.

In fact, Tsitsipas looked even better than Djokovic in the quarterfinals. The top-seeded Serb struggled physically with apparent neck and arm issues while needing four sets to avenge his U.S. Open default against Pablo Carreno Busta.

I had Tsitsipas beating Djokovic in the semifinals before this tournament started, and there is certainly no reason to change now.

Pick: Tsitsipas in 5

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.