Schwartzman's Stunner Against Nadal Among Best ATP Upsets Of 2020
This week we have looked at the best ATP Tour matches and comebacks of 2020. Now, we turn our attention to the biggest upsets of the season, looking at three of the five most notable stunners of the year.
5) Tommy Paul def. Alexander Zverev, Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC, Acapulco, R2, 26 February 2020 (Match Stats)
Tommy Paul made a splash at the Australian Open, defeating 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov in a four-hour, 19-minute second-round thriller. But perhaps his biggest upset of the season came weeks later at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC.
The American entered his clash against second seed Alexander Zverev winless against Top 10 opposition. On the other hand, Zverev was in form, fresh off reaching his first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open (l. to Thiem).
The German came out of the gates firing, threatening a break in the first game of the match. But Paul settled in and played tremendous all-court tennis to stymie Zverev. He cracked his heavy inside-out forehand at every opportunity, but also showed great racquet skills to carve acute angles with his backhand, while also rushing to net to win points with his touch.
Zverev raised his level in the second set and began to play more aggressively. That wasn’t surprising, as the German has the 23rd-best winning percentage (33.8%) in the Open Era after losing the first set.
But Paul weathered the storm to stun Zverev 6-3, 6-4 and reach his second ATP 500 quarter-final (2017 Citi Open).
”It meant a lot,” Paul said. “I was really excited to get out there and play. He put me under pressure in the first game and then from there, I played well for the rest of the match.”
Paul lost in a tough three-setter in the last eight against big-serving American John Isner, but he had proven his mettle against one of the world’s best. He carried the confidence from that match throughout the best season of his career, climbing to a career-high World No. 54.
4) Gianluca Mager def. Dominic Thiem, Rio Open presented by Claro, Rio de Janeiro, QF, 22 February 2020 (Match Stats)
Gianluca Mager entered qualifying at the Rio Open presented by Claro with two tour-level wins. He departed Brazil with by far the best result of his career, including an upset he’ll be able to hang his hat on forever.
The Italian showed great form by dropping only five games in his two qualifying matches and upsetting clay-court stalwart Casper Ruud in the first round of the main draw. After beating Joao Domingues in the second round, he faced the toughest test of his career against recent Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem. “For me, it was a dream only to play with him,” Mager said.
The 26-year-old showed no fear, saving three early break points with aggressive play. Thiem is one of the biggest hitters on the ATP Tour, but the Italian showed early he had no intentions of allowing the Austrian to blow right through him. When Thiem threw a jab, he was going to throw one right back.
The problem is that Mager couldn’t close out the win on the first day of play. He had to sleep on a 7-6(4), 2-1 due to Friday night rain.
But instead of panicking, the World No. 128 maintained his high level on Saturday to finish off the stunner, earning a 7-6(4), 7-5 upset of Thiem to reach his first ATP Tour semi-final.
Thiem didn’t hand the Italian the match. Mager took it from the superstar, hitting two groundstroke winners and an ace in the final game to advance.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mager said. “Now that I beat him, for me, it is a dream. He is a great, unbelievable player… I am very emotional.”
3) Diego Schwartzman def. Rafael Nadal, Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, QF, 19 September 2020 (Match Stats)
It was tennis’ version of David versus Goliath in the quarter-finals of this year’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Rafael Nadal had won his first nine ATP Head2Head clashes against Diego Schwartzman with the loss of just two sets. The Argentine knew he’d need to deliver a Herculean effort to oust the nine-time champion. That’s exactly what Schwartzman did at the Foro Italico.
"For sure it's my best match ever," Schwartzman said. "I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I'm very happy."
Like Goliath, Nadal is a giant on the court. That is especially the case on clay, where the Spaniard bullies opponents with his heavy topspin forehand
But David (in this case, Diego) stood up to the giant. Schwartzman held his ground on the baseline and traded blow-for-blow with the legendary lefty in heavy conditions. Instead of Nadal pushing the righty back, he was the one being moved off the baseline. The Ad-court to Ad-court rallies — pitting Nadal’s forehand against Schwartzman’s backhand — were reminiscent of some of Rafa’s clashes against Novak Djokovic.
Whenever Nadal tried to change things up and play cat-and-mouse points, Diego had an answer.
"It was crazy. Tennis is crazy. Our performance is always crazy. The past three weeks were really bad for me," Schwartzman said on court after his victory. "Today I played my best tennis.
There were five consecutive service breaks in the second set, and Schwartzman was broken at love when serving for the match at 5-4, when Nadal buckled down and reduced his error count. But Diego persevered, hitting a passing shot out of Rafa’s reach to earn another chance at closing out the match. This time, he hit a forehand drop volley to finish the job, triumphing 6-2, 7-5.
"Yeah!" Schwartzman shouted.
David had slayed Goliath.
It was arguably the biggest win of Schwartzman’s career-best season. He’d reach his first Grand Slam semi-final at Roland Garros — where he lost against Nadal — to crack the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings and earn his maiden berth at the Nitto ATP Finals in November.