© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Diego Schwartzman reaches his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final on Friday in Rome.

Schwartzman, Who Faces Djokovic, Turned Around His Season With Double Duty In Rome

Argentine will face Djokovic in SF

Don't misunderstand him: Diego Schwartzman was not excited about playing two matches in one day in Rome. A complete washout forced every Internazionali BNL d'Italia quarter-finalist to play two matches on Thursday.

But the unfortunate double duty might have been what turned around Schwartzman's week and his season at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Rome.

A year ago, the Argentine was closing in on the Top 10, week after week setting new career-highs in the ATP Rankings. He won the ATP 500 title at the Rio Open presented by Claro, his biggest title yet, and, by mid-May, he had risen to No. 12.

But heading into Rome this week, Schwartzman was struggling. His ATP Ranking had doubled from a year ago, to No. 24, and he was low on confidence and without a title. Despite the European clay-court swing nearing its end, Schwartzman, a two-time clay-court titlist, hadn't reached a quarter-final since February at the Argentina Open.

I was not playing my best tennis. I was not doing a great job with my mind... I think I lost a little bit of confidence at the beginning of the season,” Schwartzman told ATPTour.com.

In the Italian capital, however, the 26-year-old has had one of the best weeks of his career. On Friday, he beat No. 6 Kei Nishikori for the first time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series (1-3) and reached his first Masters 1000 semi-final. Schwartzman had been 0-15 against Top 6 players.

“I didn't start the clay season well, and I needed two matches in a row of playing good tennis,” Schwartzman said. “I'm very happy to get back [my confidence], to feel good again. It was really important for me. [Thursday] was a big day for me.”

You May Also Like: Schwartzman Too Strong For Nishikori In Rome

In truth, the Argentine made the overtime shift. He won four sets – 7-6(5), 6-1 against Spain's Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and 6-3, 6-4 against Italian Matteo Berrettini – in three hours and 10 minutes. Schwartzman also won his first-rounder in straight sets, and after his 6-4, 6-2 win against Nishikori, he is yet to drop a set in Rome.

Maybe if you see just the scores it looks like an easy day, but it was really tough after the first match... The match against Ramos was really important. And after that I had a headache, and I slept for 35 minutes in the locker room, trying to recover well and be fine for the second match,” Schwartzman said. “Then I think I did a great job. Maybe Matteo was a little bit nervous in the match... because he's from Italy... so I took every chance.”

Before this week, it wasn't as if Schwartzman was having a terrible year; the 5'7” Argentine just wasn't meeting the high standards his 2018 set for himself, especially on clay.

It was just hard for him to have good tournaments and be more regular. This week everything is happening. He returned to his level,” said Juan Ignacio Chela, former No. 15 in the ATP Rankings and Schwartzman's coach for the past three years.

I think what changed the most was his confidence. He was working but, although you train very well every day, there are things that are achieved only by winning matches. Winning the matches here, the first and the second round, that gave him a lot of confidence and today he played his best tennis.”

Watch Hot Shot: Schwartzman's Sweet Timing Against Nishikori In Rome

Everything worked for Schwartzman against Nishikori. He won 55 per cent of his second-serve points, eight percentage points higher than his season average (47.13%, 59th on Tour). Schwartzman, one of the Tour's best returners, also won 50 per cent of his return points, seven percentage points more than his season average (43%).

“Today he played the best match of the tournament. He was very solid and very firm from the baseline. He was also aggressive. Against this level of a player [Nishikori], it is not enough to be solid. You have to hurt them. Diego did very well, and he served very well,” Chela said.

Normally he is fast and moves very well. But today, in addition to moving and reaching the balls, he was very precise. He hit several important passing shots, at key moments of the match. Today he did everything impeccable.”

Schwartzman had reached two Masters 1000 quarter-finals and two Grand Slam quarter-finals (2017 US Open, 2018 Roland Garros) before Friday, but never a semi-final at either level.

You always want to be overcoming and passing certain barriers. This is one and a very important one. More than anything because he beat a top player,” Chela said.

The 5'7” Argentine will face Novak Djokovic, who beat Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4, for a place in the Masters 1000 final. Schwartzman is 0-2 against Djokovic, including a five-set third-round match at 2017 Roland Garros. But, as Schwartzman showed this week, he's not one to dwell on the past.