World no. 2 Rafael Nadal picked Rome as his comeback tournament after the last year's pandemic, staying away from the court since February and Acapulco. Training at home in Mallorca on clay since May, Rafa skipped Cincinnati and the US Open and chased the tenth trophy at Foro Italico in Rome.
Nadal made a rock-solid start, ousting Pablo Carreno Busta and Dusan Lajovic in straight sets to reach the quarters against Diego Schwartzman. The 8th seed proved to be too tough for Rafa to handle on a humid Saturday night in Rome, scoring a 6-2, 7-5 triumph for a place in the semis and leaving Nadal empty-handed ahead of Roland Garros.
It was the first victory for Diego over Rafa in ten encounters, playing on a high level from start to finish and repeating the last year's result at Foro Italico.
Rafael Nadal lost in straight sets to Diego Schwartzman in 2020 Rome quarter-final.
Struggling with conditions and an impressive rival on the other side of the net, Rafa was outplayed in almost every department, making too many errors and never moving the opponent from the comfort zone.
Diego secured five breaks from 54% of the return points he seized and got broken only twice to move over the top in style and remain on the title course. Firing 31 winners and 17 unforced errors, the Argentine had the upper hand over the Spaniard, defending a forehand and backhand nicely and mixing up his game to outplay the greatest clay-courter of all time.
Rafa gave his best in set number two, but it was not enough after terrible percentages behind the initial shot, heading home to Spain and working on those elements that did not go well ahead of Roland Garros. "We can find excuses, but I did not play well enough.
It's not the moment to find excuses but to accept that I did not play well enough; it was not my night at all. He played a great match, and I think I did not. After a long time without competing, I played two good matches and a bad one against a good opponent today.
That's how it is; these things can happen. I want to congratulate Diego, and I'm going to keep working. I will probably go back home and then let's see what's going on in Paris. I did my job here. I did a couple of things well and other things bad, and that's it.
At least I played three matches and fought until the end. You can not expect to score victory after getting broken that often; I will have to fix that, and I know how to do it. I'm going to keep working and keep practicing with the right attitude and try to give myself a chance to be ready," Rafael Nadal said.