World no. 2 and nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal couldn't regain the title at Foro Italico last week. The Spaniard suffered the quarter-final loss to Diego Schwartzman, handing the crown to Novak Djokovic and moving behind the Serb on the Masters 1000 record charts.
With Roland Garros starting in a couple of days, Nadal went back to the practice court at his Academy at home in Mallorca, trying to improve some elements ahead of the third and last Major of the season in Paris. Rafa is the 12th time Roland Garros winner, dominating the clay Major in the previous 15 years and standing as the favorite in the next two weeks together with Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic.
Winning the 85th ATP title in Acapulco in February, the coronavirus halted the tennis season for five months, forcing Nadal to stay at home. After a couple of months without tennis, Nadal started to practice, preferring his beloved clay and deciding to skip Cincinnati and the US Open, where he won the title a year ago.
Competing for the first time after 200 days in Rome, Nadal made a perfect return against the US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta and Dusan Lajovic, sailing into the quarters and setting the tenth clash with Diego Schwartzman.
The Spaniard toppled the Argentine in the previous nine encounters and that wasn't the case on Saturday, as Schwartzman grabbed a 6-2, 7-5 victory to repeat the semi-final from a year ago. In the past, Diego knew how to challenge Rafa on both hard and clay, confirming that on Saturday night and producing a stellar triumph in two hours and three minutes!
In one of his brightest performances in a career, Schwartzman neutralized the rival, hitting 31 winners and 17 unforced errors to leave Rafa far behind. Struggling with humidity and pace, Nadal couldn't find the answer for the rival's aggressive approach, unable to impose his strokes or move Diego from the comfort zone and gain a boost in the exchanges.
Rafael Nadal will give his best at Roland Garros, seeking the 13th trophy.
Changing his strokes' pace, Schwartzman implemented drop shots, slices, and flat deep groundstrokes to keep the rallies on his racquet, bringing the victory home in style.
Diego earned five breaks from 54% of the return points, neutralizing Rafa's initial shot and giving serve away twice to move into the last four. After a poor performance in the opener, Nadal was eager to raise his level in set number two, although it wasn't enough for at least a set, as he lost steam in the crucial moments.
Heading back home and practicing at his Academy, Nadal is adding finishing touches ahead of his beloved Roland Garros, seeking the 13th Parisian title and the 20th Major crown that would put him tie with Roger Federer at the top of the GOAT list.