They’re down to the last four in Paris at the French Open 2020 – time for Andy Schooler to assess the state of play heading into the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
Nadal to be challenged
Schwartzman to win the first set
Diego Schwartzman beat Rafael Nadal at the recent Rome Masters yet he’s out at 5/1 to repeat the trick here.
It does look a tad big but then Nadal has only ever lost twice on clay in the best-of-five format. At the French Open 2020 alone, he now holds a 98-2 win-loss record. It is out of this world.
The Spaniard has yet to lose a set at this year’s event, although there remain reasons to think he might not get things all his own way here.
Anyone who saw their Rome clash – the first time Schwarzman had beaten Nadal in 10 meetings – will know that the Argentine dealt comfortably with Nadal’s arsenal in slow conditions.
They did play at night in the Italian capital which helped Schwartzman, with Nadal’s forehand unable to get the bite and jump it might have done in hotter, drier conditions.
It will be warmer this time if, as I’d expect, the match takes place in the afternoon but the conditions still won’t be ideal for Nadal, despite temperatures being expected to hit something approaching a tournament-high on Friday.
As he showed against Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals, Schwartzman can get a lot of balls back and is prepared to run all day chasing them down.
He’s one of the tour’s best returners and is regularly able to chisel out break-point chances against virtually any player, particularly on this surface.
The problem may be how much that battle with Thiem took out of Schwartzman. It lasted more than five hours, although at least he’s since had two days off to prepare was what is arguably the ultimate challenge in the sport – beating Nadal on clay.
Nadal doesn’t have the same power on his shots as Thiem but he may now hold the fitness advantage thanks to that relative breeze through to this stage.
He’s also happy to play all day from the back of the court so if Nadal is happy to grind this out, it may well be the case that Schwartzman fades as the contest wears on.
Getting ahead early will be key for the underdog but he does look capable of causing problems.
Nadal was fortunate not to lose the opener in his last match with Jannik Sinner – the Italian served for it and was two points way at one stage – and he isn’t always the fastest of starters.
Taking a chance about Schwartzman winning the first set at 13/5 looks to have potential.
Tsitsipas to trouble Djokovic
Tsitsipas to win
Stefanos Tsitsipas lost the first two sets he played at this year’s French Open but he’s since rattled off 15 on the spin.
The Greek says it took him two sets to figure out the testing slow courts and balls at Roland Garros but he certainly seems at home on them now.
He arrives in great nick, fresh from a dominant display against another talented youngster Andrey Rublev, but if he is to win the title he’s likely going to need to make history.
No player has ever beaten both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal (the hot favourite for the other semi, see above) in the same claycourt tournament, yet alone back-to-back.
In fact, the last player to defeat the pair back-to-back at any event was Roger Federer at the 2010 ATP Finals. That was best-of-three sets. This is best of five.
Tsitsipas will certainly need to focus on the here and now – Djokovic.
The good news is Tsitsipas has beaten the world number one in the past. Twice actually in five meetings.
He’s yet to do so on clay – Djokovic won their only such meeting in Madrid last year – but I doubt the fifth seed will bring any baggage into this contest.
There are also some doubts over Djokovic’s fitness.
Not for the first time, he needed treatment on his neck during his come-from-behind quarter-final win over Pablo Carreno Busta.
He had tape on his neck from the start and was clearly bothered by it in the opening stages, losing the first set.
If Tsitsipas gets ahead early in this match, I’d expect him to prove a better front-runner than PCB, especially with the confidence of his recent serving performances.
Yes, beating Djokovic over five sets remains an almighty challenge but the Greek has rarely been cowed by the big names – he was the only man to beat Djokovic, Nadal and Federer last season – and at 5/2 he may be worth chancing.
Tsitsipas to win the title
The outright markets looks tricky ahead at this stage.
I’m not convinced the two favourites will win their semi-finals which makes it hard to pick either man given Nadal is evens and Djokovic 6/5.
If they do meet, I stick by my pre-tournament assessment that in these conditions, the Serb may well edge it. However, the current market would suggest any such clash would almost be 50-50 with the layers – essentially any value in Djokovic is gone.
I’ll therefore tentatively put up Tsitsipas at 7/1.
Beating Djokovic and Nadal back-to-back on clay would be some feat but it obviously may not be something he needs to achieve.
If it is, he’s in great shape form-wise and physically, while mentally he won’t be worried about facing the world’s two best players. He’s beaten them before and might just do so again.
Pick Petra For Women's Glory
Kvitova to win the title
The women’s semis get under way on Thursday at 1400 BST.
The first features two unseeded players in Iga Swiatek and Nadia Podoroska with the former a heavy favourite.
She’s lost only 20 games in five matches so far and should be able to overpower her Argentine foe, something she’s managed to do against every opponent thus far, including top seed Simona Halep.
Nerves may be her biggest worry – who knows how she’ll handle this occasion with a place in a Grand Slam final up for grabs at the age of just 19?
I’d expect her to win but 1/4 is no price.
The second match of the day is packed with considerably more experience – Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin taking on Petra Kvitova, twice the Wimbledon winner.
Like Swiatek, Kvitova holds the power advantage and again that can be expected to play its part.
Kenin has been taken to three sets in every round bar one so far, this despite her highest-ranked opponent being world number 49 Fiona Ferro.
In contrast, Kvitova has eased through her part of the draw. She’s yet to lose a set and simply looks in better form.
Also holding a 2-0 head-to-head advantage, the Czech should progress.
With that experience factor in her favour, I feel she’s the best value in the current outright market at 7/4. Swiatek heads it at 11/8.
If the pair do meet, the young Pole won’t have faced anyone with the same weight of shot and may well find herself having to play off the back foot much more than she’s had to so far this fortnight.