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Rafael Nadal headed to U.S. Open semis after straight-sets slog


Under normal circumstances, a straight-sets victory would feel like a comfortable triumph, but Rafael Nadal had to put in work for his win over No. 20 Diego Schwartzman in the U.S. Open quarterfinals Wednesday night.

In the three-set match, which lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes, the No. 2 seed got a taste of his own medicine as the 5-7 Argentine put on a defensive masterclass and made nearly every game a battle of attrition.

Nadal came out the gates serving big, regularly uncorking first serves greater than 120 mph. He used that to race out to a 4-1 lead in the first set, and it briefly looked like Rafa was going to run away with it. But Schwartzman slowed things to a grind, and soon turned the tables on the three-time U.S. Open champ.

Nadal had a hard-fought quarterfinal against Diego Schwartzman of Argentina (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

Nadal attacked Schwartzman’s backhand, but the Argentine hung tough in rallies and took Nadal’s forehands on early. In the blink of an eye, Schwartzman had broken Nadal twice and leveled the set at 4-4.

After going up 5-4, Nadal turned up the intensity on Schwartzman’s service game and got the break he needed to win the first set in a lengthy 57 minutes.

The second set played out in almost identical fashion, with Schwartzman falling behind 5-1. But with Nadal on serve, Schwartzman came up with the point of the match. He was all over the court, absorbing a Nadal forehand and three Nadal volleys, finally stretching to steal a forehand winner down the line.

The point seemed to spark him back to life and Schwartzman rallied to level the set at 5-5.

Nadal, who seemed uncomfortable with Schwartzman’s style of play, committed 17 of his 39 unforced errors in the set. But after holding serve yet again, Nadal was able to get that vital third break on Schwartzman and snatch the set away.

Nadal said after the match that the humidity in Arthur Ashe stadium had an effect on him.

“I had some cramps in the end of the second, and, yeah, first five games, six games of the third,” he said. “Then I take some salt … that’s all … and then it was over. The body is in good shape, I think.”

By this point, Nadal and Schwartzman had been on the court for 2 hours and 6 minutes, and falling behind by two sets seemed to break Schwartzman’s spirit. Nadal would go on to handily win the third set, 6-2, in a much quicker 41 minutes.

When asked if size was a factor in the match — Nadal is 6-2 and Schwartzman is 5-7 — Nadal was quick to downplay that aspect.

“The word ‘if’ is very dangerous, because if I was his size, maybe I will adapt my game to that size,” Nadal said. “If he was my size, he will adapt the game to this size.”

Despite losing in straight sets, Schwartzman played Nadal evenly on the court, and the stats also reflect that. Schwartzman and Nadal had similar first-serve percentages (60% vs. 63%), return percentages (78% vs. 80%) and unforced errors (37 vs. 39).

Nadal’s bigger first serve ultimately got him a few extra points when he needed them most, and the favorite was able to dig in when it counted and gut out those extra break points.

It was not a pretty win for Nadal, but it was enough to get him into Friday night’s semifinal, where he’ll meet No. 24 Matteo Berrettini, who beat Gael Monfils in five sets earlier on Wednesday.