© Rio Open

Diego Schwartzman reaches his fourth ATP World Tour final and first at the 500 level in Rio de Janeiro.

Read & Watch: Schwartzman, Verdasco Roll Into Rio Final

Argentine, Spaniard seeking first titles of 2018

Diego Schwartzman has been a man on a mission this week at the Jockey Club Brasileiro. The Argentine has not dropped a set en route to his fourth ATP World Tour final, cruising into the championship of the Rio Open presented by Claro.

In an all-South American semi-final clash, Schwartzman ended Nicolas Jarry's dream week in Rio de Janeiro, fighting past the Chilean 7-5, 6-2 in one hour and 17 minutes. An aggressive Jarry did well to make it a competitive affair, but the agile Schwartzman was too consistent in the end and would secure his spot in the biggest final of his career.

Vying for his second ATP World Tour title, Schwartzman will look to add to his victory on the clay of Istanbul in 2016 when he faces Fernando Verdasco. He is guaranteed to break into the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings for the first time on Monday.

Schwartzman, who converted four of eight break chances against Jarry, currently sits in third place on the Infosys ATP Stats Return Leaderboard.

"I feel really happy today," said Schwartzman. "I was nervous at the end of the first set. It's not easy to close it out when the opponent is aggressive. You need to be focused on every point. In the second set, I took every chance and got better. It's not easy and I need to run a lot, but I like these kinds of matches on clay courts."

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The 5'7" Schwartzman fired just 10 winners on an overcast Saturday afternoon in the Brazilian metropolis, but he would benefit from 39 unforced errors by his 6'6" counterpart. Looking to employ a hyper-aggressive gameplan, Jarry blasted returns and maintained great depth off the ground, but it was Schwartzman who was steadier in the big moments. After exchanging breaks late in the first set, the sixth seed converted his third set point to close out the opener. He would carry the momentum into the second, breaking Jarry to love for 2-1 and once again for 4-1. The Chilean did well to save a match point while serving at 1-5, but Schwartzman efficiently served it out in the next game.

Despite the loss, Jarry enjoyed a magical week in reaching his first ATP World Tour semi-final. Upsets of seeds Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Pablo Cuevas will see the 22-year-old rise to a projected career-high in the Top 80 of the ATP Rankings. A three-time ATP Challenger Tour titlist in 2017 and the third-biggest mover to the Top 100 (+300 spots to year-end No. 100), his breakthrough run in Rio has come as no surprise to many. The Santiago native is certainly one to watch as the 2018 season rolls along.

In Saturday's second semi-final, Verdasco came through a straightforward encounter against Fabio Fognini, prevailing 6-1, 7-5 in just 75 minutes. The Spaniard will contest his 23rd ATP World Tour final and first in nearly a year, having fallen to Andy Murray in Dubai last March.

Verdasco, who will also appear in the Rio de Janeiro doubles final alongside countryman David Marrero, is seeking his first 500-level crown since 2010, when he lifted the trophy on home soil in Barcelona (d. Soderling). 

"I'm so happy to reach the final here in Rio, in my first time playing here," said Verdasco. "All these years waiting to come to this city has helped me to find the extra energy and motivation to be in both singles and doubles finals. At the end, you just try to play the best to win. Just keep trying and fighting."

The 34-year-old Madrid native executed his gameplan from the baseline and took advantage of Fognini's serving struggles to advance on Saturday. The Italian won 49 per cent of total service points and Verdsaco was ruthless on return, converting five of six break chances - including four in the opening set - to efficiently wrap up the victory.

Schwartzman and Verdasco will face off for the second time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, with the Argentine previously capturing a 7-6(5), 6-1 decision in Nice in 2016. While the Buenos Aires native has not relinquished a set this week, Verdasco has battled to a pair of deciding-set wins over Schwartzman's countrymen Leonardo Mayer and Nicolas Kicker.

Verdasco is the fourth different Spaniard to appear in the Rio de Janeiro final in the tournament's five-year history. Rafael Nadal won the title in 2014, David Ferrer triumphed in 2015 and Pablo Carreno Busta finished runner-up last year.

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