The Tiny Wrecking Ball Diego Schwartzman Has Nearly Cleared a Path to London

By Giri Nathan

I have always loved to watch Diego Schwartzman. Listed officially at 5 foot 7, observed in real life as closer to 5 foot 5, the Argentine is physically unlike any other player at this tier of tennis, yet has found a way to keep up with all the lanky big servers on the tour. It helps that he is one of the best returners alive, and the 100-mph forehands make it easy enough to forget what he lacks in size. There isn’t much recent precedent for what he’s accomplished; he found and followed a path all his own. I just wrote a whole profile to this effect, but I’m not sure I’ll ever beat the commenter who said Schwartzman “resembles a fire hydrant with a giant forearm attached to it that just crushes flat balls from eye-level all over the court.”

Not only have I loved to watch Schwartzman play, but as he steadily ascended the rankings, I always suspected his best tennis was still ahead of him. The modern player’s prime—after the mind has accreted tactical wisdom, but before the body starts to go—is closer to 30 than to 20. Maybe Diego’s game could get even sharper before the speed so essential to it began to fade. In all, 2019, which saw him briefly dip out of the top 25, was a down year for him. Certainly it seemed possible for him to break into the top 10, which had eluded him for so long. He is too talented to have only three ATP titles on his shelf. There are still some reasonable items on his list to check off. I still felt there was farther for him to go.

It is possible that the 28-year-old might even have tennis better than what he’s bringing right now, but that’ll be an extremely high bar to clear. Diego is doing it. He’s in the middle of the hottest run of his career, and it has shifted from clay to hard court, just as his career did. Since the start of the Rome Masters, Schwartzman has gone 14–3, including clay-court wins over the surface’s prince and king, Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal. At Roland-Garros, he earned a spot in his first major semifinal. He played finals in Rome and Cologne. Now ranked No. 9 in the world, he’ll end a season in the top 10 for the first time in his fascinating arc. Accordingly, he is closing in on his first-ever chance to play the ATP Finals in London. On Thursday, Schwartzman annihilated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in Paris, 6–1, 6–1, which brought him within one win of London. If on Friday he had beaten Daniil Medvedev, the man he recently referred to as “a moron,” he would have had it in the bag. Schwartzman lost that grudge match 6-3, 6-1, but still has a safe path to the Finals, which could only be impeded by Pablo Carreño Busta winning everything in Paris and making it to the final in Sofia next week.

One of the spots in London has been vacated by Roger Federer, who still hoards all his points as he recovers from surgery. That means there’s an opening for someone new. But aside from fellow newcomer Andrey Rublev, these guys have all been here before. Three of them have even won the tournament already, and that group somehow doesn’t include Rafael Nadal. Boring, boring, boring—why not end this lurching, often depressing tennis season with a boom, courtesy of this tiny wrecking ball? What’s the point of a chaos season if it doesn’t culminate in a Diego Schwartzman title in London? Please join me in willing it into existence.

Above: Diego Schwartzman in action in Paris this week. (Getty Images)

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