How to watch: 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Tennis Channel and 11 a.m. onward on NBC; streaming on the Tennis Channel app and the NBCSN app.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are living legends of tennis, and it’s easy to think that they will meet in the final at Roland Garros. However, Diego Schwartzman and Stefanos Tsitsipas each have a chance to prove that it is no accident that they have made it this far, and each hopes to reach his first major final by taking out one of the so-called Big Three.
Here is what to watch for in Friday’s semifinals:
Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are at best a guess and are certain to fluctuate based on the times at which earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.
PHILIPPE CHATRIER COURT | 8:50 a.m.
Rafael Nadal vs. Diego Schwartzman
Nadal, a 12-time French Open champion from Spain, is trying to tie Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles. The cold conditions at this French Open do not favor Nadal. The weather dulls the heavy topspin on his shots, making them settle lower in the court instead of sending his opponents careening off the court in the way that Nadal has come to expect.
That has not stopped Nadal’s march forward, however. He has not dropped a set on his way to today’s semifinal. His biggest challenge came in the quarterfinal, as the breakout player, Jannik Sinner of Italy, pushed Nadal to a tiebreaker in the first set before Nadal slowly but surely overwhelmed him.
Nadal will now face Schwartzman, who beat him in straight sets last month at the Italian Open. Schwartzman advanced to the semifinals by beating Dominic Thiem, the U.S. Open champion, in five sets in the quarterfinals in a show of tenacious defense. This is Schwartzman’s first major semifinal, and it is sure to be an uphill climb mentally and physically.
Although Nadal’s shots are falling flatter than they would in previous years, they can still cause problems for Schwartzman, especially when his backhand is pinned into a cross-court battle against Nadal’s left-handed forehand. It seems likely that Schwartzman can join the limited ranks of those who have taken a set off Nadal over the last 15 years at the French Open, but it is unlikely that he will be able to take the three sets necessary to win.
PHILIPPE CHATRIER COURT | 11 a.m.
Novak Djokovic vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas
Djokovic, the top seed, has won half of the Grand Slam tournaments since the beginning of 2018, when he came back from an elbow injury. With 17 career Grand Slam titles, he is behind only Federer and Nadal.
Although Djokovic seemed to struggle with aches and pains through the last couple of rounds against Karen Khachanov and Pablo Carreño Busta, the quality of his game has still been good enough to win. He was not as dominant as expected in his four-set victory over Carreño Busta, but Djokovic still kept a steely grip on the tempo of the match.
Tsitsipas, the winner of the ATP Tour Finals in 2019 and the fifth seed at Roland Garros, proclaimed his intent after his quarterfinal victory over Andrey Rublev. “I would like to tell you that I’m not a NextGen player anymore,” he said, referring to his being marketed as a future star by the men’s tour. “I’m a proper adult.”
It’s a fair statement for Tsitsipas, 22, to make after reaching his second Grand Slam semifinal. It’s easy to remember underwhelming performances on the biggest stages, mental lapses that seemed almost childish. He now seems to have a better perspective on the game, keeping a cool head and not letting his powerful forehand cause unforced errors.
It would be a major achievement for Tsitsipas to upset Djokovic to reach his first Grand Slam final, but it seems within reach. As Djokovic seemingly struggles with a neck injury, if Tsitsipas can put the pressure on early, he may strike just enough doubt into the perennial champion.