The 10 best French Open men’s matches of the century: Schwartzman-Anderson, fourth round, 2018
The 2018 French Open showpiece was a procession, King of Clay Nadal vanquishing first-time Slam finalist Dominic Thiem in straight sets.
The match of the tournament had transpired several days earlier, in the David vs Goliath clash between 5-foot-7 Diego Schwartzman and 6-foot-8 Kevin Anderson. A compelling clash of styles, this one lasted 3 hours, 51 minutes and featured one of the tournament’s most stunning fightbacks.
Anderson was the only player with “feel” in the early stages as he walloped his signature 130mph+ serves at the diminutive Argentine, who struggled to gain a foothold. It wasn’t just the South African’s serve that was firing on Court Suzanne Lenglen; he was also hitting incredible returns, targeting each wing of the court with heavy forehands and moving gracefully for such a big man. Uninformed spectators weren’t to know that Schwartzman was a clay-court specialist, his two titles coming on dirt in Rio and Istanbul.
After posting just three games on the board in the first two sets, the match was slipping away from the 25-year-old. But like his stylistic forebear Lleyton Hewitt, the word “quit” wasn’t in his vocabulary. In the third set he settled the nerves by serving to love in the opening game, before toughing out a service game from 15-40 at 2-2. Then he watched three of his own break points go begging in the next game before surrendering a break in game seven to hand Anderson the initiative. With the sixth seed serving for the match, Diego somehow hauled himself back from the brink, using the energy of the crowd and playing breathtaking defensive tennis to take four games on the spin; the set-winning shot a delightful cross-court backhand caught on the rise.
To his credit, Anderson reset and broke immediately in the fourth. The trouble was, his forehand had gone AWOL and Diego still believed. An immediate break back, followed by another break from Anderson, commenced a gonzo fourth set which was anyone’s game. Anderson was hitting as many double faults as errors now as doubt crept into his mind. Still, he had another chance to serve for the match at 5-4. Amazingly, the player nicknamed El Peque (Shorty) broke to love, playing the sort of defensive tennis typically associated with Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. At 0-30 in that tenth game Anderson had his opponent sliding all over the court, only for Diego to lift the perfect lob over his head. Then he flashed a forehand winner past him to level up, before dominating the tie break 7-0.
The final set was truly bizarre, with five consecutive breaks of serve to start. But Schwartzman held first to move ahead 4-2, then broke once more with a sumptuous cross-court winner while Anderson advanced to the net. By wrapping things up with only his second ace of the match, Schwartzman added some gloss to his 1-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-2 victory.
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