Rafael Nadal kept pulling away in his US Open quarter-final, then getting reeled back in by Diego Schwartzman.
In the first set, Nadal led 4-0 before the Argentine got to four-all. In the second, Nadal went up 5-1 before Schwartzman made it five-all.
It took more than two hours just for those two sets. Eventually, both were claimed by Nadal. And so, ultimately, was the match and a berth in a 33rd Grand Slam semi-final for the Spaniard, who prevented Schwartzman from reaching his first by winning 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Like a lion in the jungle. He’s big. He’s a fighter. He knows how to play the important moments, every single time,” Schwartzman said. “I’ve played him eight times and every important moment, he played better than me.”
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are both out but Nadal is still around, meaning at least one member of the Big Three is in the semis at a 62nd consecutive major tournament. That trio has combined to win the last 11 Slam trophies - and Nadal is going to be heavily favoured to make that 12.
None of the other men left has played in a major final, let alone won one. Nadal, though, is closing in on a fourth championship at the US Open and his 19th at all majors, which would move him within only one of Federer’s record.
Nadal raised some concern by having a trainer come out to rub a cream into that forearm during a changeover early in the third set. At the next changeover, he flexed his right forearm and was visited again by the trainer, took a salt pill and guzzled some drinks, then shook that arm between points in the following game.
Afterwards, Nadal said he had had to deal with cramps. “And then I took some salt, that’s all, and then it was over. The body is in good shape, I think. Not big problems,” Nadal said. “Just, of course, a little tired. Long day.”
Now Nadal will play Matteo Berrettini, a 23-year-old from Rome who is Italy’s first male semi-finalist in New York since 1977. Berrettini barely got there, edging past Gael Monfils 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
The other men’s semi-final will be Daniil Medvedev of Russia versus world No 78 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.