French Open #SmashTalk: Schwartzman relishing big stage

Published by TenniSmash

Diego Schwartzman ended Rafael Nadal's run of 37 straight sets in Paris; Getty Images

Diego Schwartzman is giving Rafael Nadal the toughest test of his tournament, between rain breaks, while Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza will battle for the No.1 ranking in a stellar French Open semifinal line-up.

The #SmashTalk team of Vivienne Christie, Piers Newbery and Leigh Rogers discusses whether Schwartzman’s success against Nadal, so far, has come from nowhere, and who will make it to the women’s final.

We would love to know your thoughts on today’s big topics too. Have your say on Facebook and Twitter using #SmashTalk.

Why are we not surprised by Schwartzman?

Leigh Rogers: It’s not a huge shock that Schwartzman is performing so well against Nadal, simply because he’s a great player. He reached the US Open quarterfinals in a breakout 2017 season and pushed Nadal to four sets earlier this year in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Clay is his favourite surface, so of course the world No.12 should be a threat at Roland Garros – especially considering only Nadal, Thiem and Zverev have won more matches on clay in the past two seasons.

REPORT: Schwartzman testing Nadal

Vivienne Christie: As a developing junior, Schwartzman’s family would create and sell football-themed bracelets to help pay his travel expenses. It points to a determination that Schwartzman maximises his potential. So why should a meeting with Nadal – even if the 10-time champion was Diego’s childhood idol – overwhelm the Argentine at his favourite tournament?

Much is made of Schwartzman’s height (or lack of it) but far less is said about his speed and surprising power. Should he pull off an upset when their quarterfinal resumes, it’s not as if he’s come from nowhere.

Piers Newbery: The focus on Schwartzman’s height is hard to resist when we see images of him shaking hands with the likes of 6ft 8in Kevin Anderson, and the Argentine himself uses David and Goliath imagery when asked about the challenge he faces, but he uses every inch and ounce of his frame to good effect.

Schwartzman has been among the top-five returners on Tour over the last year, can punch holes in the steeliest defence and covers the ground as well as anyone. He also plays to his strengths, predictably making 17 fewer aces in his epic win over Anderson (2-19) but a match-turning 56 fewer errors (37-93).

Rating Sharapova’s French Open

Vivienne: As Maria said herself, it was a step in the right direction. She hadn’t experienced the second week of a Grand Slam for more than two years and it added to the momentum established in reaching the Rome semifinals. Sharapova has now claimed two top-10 wins – Jelena Ostapenko in Rome, Karolina Pliskova in Paris – at her last two tournaments.

But amid all those positives, there’s still one Sharapova question begging to be answered: how will she fare when she next faces Serena Williams? Like the fans and the media, Maria must be wondering.

REPORT: Muguruza thrashes Sharapova in quarters

Piers: The manner of her win over Pliskova was as impressive as the Russian’s walkover against Serena Williams was disappointing. The problem for Sharapova is there are an increasing number of players in every draw who have won big titles and believe they can, and will, beat the five-time Grand Slam champion.

Defeat a Pliskova and around the next corner will be a Muguruza, Halep or Kerber, and if not a Kasatkina or Osaka. For Sharapova it really is all about the Grand Slams, and there might just be too many big matches in a row for her to win these days.

Leigh: A first Grand Slam quarterfinal since AO2016 is a positive result and her third-round demolition of world No.6 Karolina Pliskova was impressive. Yet as we have seen throughout Sharapova’s return, she is struggling to maintain momentum. A quarterfinal obliteration at the hands of Garbine Muguruza only fuels the notion that Sharapova’s days as a consistent Grand Slam contender are over. She has a lot to prove at Wimbledon.

Halep v Muguruza, Keys v Stephens

Piers: Halep and Stephens. I’m going to stick with my belief that Halep is relishing the spotlight having been elsewhere thus far – first on Serena and increasingly now on Muguruza – and is ready to go all the way this time. Admittedly her record against the Spaniard isn’t great at 1-3 but she did win their only meeting on clay, and can do so again.

Stephens has undergone arguably the biggest transformation of anyone in the last 12 months, as a Grand Slam champion  who looks well capable of doubling her tally soon. Steadier and smarter on court than the all-or-nothing Keys, it will be a repeat of New York in Paris on Thursday.

Leigh: Muguruza and Stephens. Both players thrive on momentum, which they have built an abundance of so far in Paris. Muguruza boasts a good record against Halep and if she continues her current form, it is hard to see the Romanian being able to stop her. Keys is always a dangerous opponent, but Stephens’ steadiness should help her reach a second Grand Slam final.

RANKINGS WATCH: Muguruza to challenge Halep for No.1

Vivienne: Muguruza and Stephens. Halep is deserving after playing her heart out in each of her three Grand Slam finals. But watching Muguruza’s authoritative display against Sam Stosur, and then her form in a first-time win over Sharapova, only adds to my sense that the Spaniard is on the march to her second French Open title.

Keys’ big-hitting game deserted her when she last faced Sloane Stephens in the final of the 2017 US Open. A big question is whether that experience will haunt the younger American or strengthen her resolve in another career-defining meeting. I suspect Keys’ emotions will sit somewhere in the middle, but the slightly older Stephens will still have her measure.

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