Diego Schwartzman hailed what he felt was his “best tennis ever” while Greg Rusedski labelled him “magical” after he dumped reigning champion Rafael Nadal out of the Italian Open at the quarter-final stage late on Saturday night. The Argentine won 6-2, 7-5 against the ‘King of Clay’ himself.
Schwartzman’s win prevents the possibility of a blockbuster showdown between Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the final in Rome.
In the process, the 28-year-old, ranked 15th in the world, claimed the first top five win of his career and his first ever triumph against Nadal.
He had previously lost nine times in a row against the Spaniard with Nadal usually an unstoppable force on the clay.
But Schwartzman had too much for the 19-time Grand Slam champion on this occasion.
His reward is a showdown with 12th seed Denis Shapovalov as he looks to earn a spot in the final, potentially against Djokovic.
Schwartzman said: “It was crazy. Tennis is crazy. The last three weeks were really bad for me, I was thinking to Hamburg and to take rhythm.
“The first round, I was not playing very well. Today I played my best tennis ever, similar to Roland Garros against Rafa three years ago.
“I was not thinking to beat him because I was not playing good. Today I did my best and I’m very happy. It was different without people, I prefer with people these kind of matches, my first time beating him, but it was okay.
“I played against him nine times before, I think four or five times, I was not close but playing really well and close in the score, feeling well.
“I came to the court trying to do the same things. The first set was really, really good for me, I took every chance he gave me.
“After that I was thinking, ‘Maybe he’s not playing after eight months, I have to stay here, if it’s not the second set, maybe the third because it’s not easy coming back.”
Nadal is a nine-time champion in Rome and had been triumphant in 2018 and 2019, beating Djokovic in last year’s final.
It had been expected the two would do battle again in Italy as a preview for what might be to come in the French Open next week.
But Nadal, playing in his first tournament since February, was well beaten by Schwartzman.
Amazon Prime analyst and former British No 1 Rusedski said: “Sensational performance from Schwartzman. To serve for the match, then to get broken and find a way to win the match was so, so impressive
“That is the performance of his lifetime and to do it on clay against Rafa? What a performance.
“Schwartzman, on his day, was magical. He deserved to win that match, he red-lined it throughout and tactically was so, so good.
“He didn’t allow Nadal to have his forehand in his backhand corner all day. You’ve just got to give credit to the Argentinean.
“You don’t see that on a clay court against Rafa. He looked like the guy who was the best clay-courter in the world in that first set, sensational.
“We expected there to be a dip but serving for the match, 5-4, this is where we thought Rafa would find a way and pounce.
“He got the break back and we expected Rafa to turn it around but what happens again, but serve and volley – surprise tactic – Schwartzman wasn’t having any of it.
“It was fantastic, wasn’t it. Fortune favours the brave and he was the braver of the two tonight.”