Carreno Busta Eases into First US Open Semifinal

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Pablo Carreno Busta maintained his 100% set record this tournament as he defeated 29th seed Diego Schwartzman 6-4 6-4 6-2 on Tuesday, becoming the first man to advance into the US Open semifinals.

It was a clash that epitomised this most open of Grand Slams. World #33 Diego Schwartzman, his underdog status practically enshrined in his 5’7″ stature, versus Pablo Carreno Busta, who looks more like a wily Spanish club player that turns up to an ITF with a plastic bag and one racket than a top-20 professional.

But this was a day where the Spaniard exhibited his finest qualities as a competitor–both tactically astute in charging the net and varying the pace, and stubbornly consistent in the match’s grueling baseline exchanges.

With the Argentine seemingly overwhelmed by the occasion in the early stages, Carreno Busta raced into a 5-2 lead. He would later intimate that his big-match taste of Arthur Ashe in the men’s doubles final last year was immensely helpful. But in a set short of quality, it was soon the Spaniard’s turn to look brittle, sinking into passivity and allowing Schwartzman to fight back to 5-4. After a heated conversation with umpire Carlos Ramos, the usually placid 26-year-old then received a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Schwartzman might then have leveled things up, but like Denis Shapovalov before him, he made the mistake of continuing to play to his opponent’s obstinate backhand wing. Carreno Busta rediscovered his rhythm, and regained his composure to close out the set.

However, Carreno Busta’s generosity in the first set proved costly. Despite racing into a 2-0 lead, he was soon struggling against a buoyant Schwartzman, the Argentine pressing higher up the court and scampering round onto his forehand at every opportunity.

The Arthur Ashe crowd roared the 29th seed on into a 4-3 lead. Winners were flying off his racket, and two blistering backhands down the line secured a guilt-edged triple break point opportunity.

But as the wily Spaniard has done all tournament, he quickly extinguished his opponent’s momentum. Once notoriously shaky in the big moments, Carreno Busta was a picture of composure, curbing Schwartzman’s aggression with deep, penetrative groundstrokes.

His fearlessness would pay dividends. With a guttural roar of delight, the Spaniard sealed his comeback, and Schwartzman soon handed him two break points of his own with a double fault. The 25-year-old’s second serve had been flagging throughout the set, taking a meager four points off the back of it.

Whereas Schwartzman had squandered a break point with a netted backhand volley just moments earlier, Carreno Busta showed his doubles pedigree by dexterously angling a forehand volley beyond his opponent to go 5-4. The 5’7″ Argentine, as ever, continued to battle, the two men engaging in a lung-busting 29-shot rally at deuce. But it was Schwartzman who eventually blinked, Carreno Busta’s timely slice backhands upsetting his rhythm. He made no mistake on set point–a ruthless serve down the centre, pulling away from Schwartzman’s despairing reach.

The wind was then well and truly taken out of the plucky Argentine’s sails. Broken to love in his opening service game of the third set, it seemed unlikely that Schwartzman’s zero percent win record from two sets down was about to change. At 2-1, the world #33 had another 40-0 opportunity on the Carreno Busta serve, but he was once again left to despondently rue what might have been. He would finish the match having converted just two of ten break points.

From there, Carreno Busta played with a rare vibrancy, increasingly inventive in his shot-making in stark contrast to his labouring opponent. When Schwartzman sprayed a backhand long on match point, the Spaniard simply dropped his racket and raised his arms aloft. “It [reaching a Grand Slam semi-final] is something that I’ve always dreamed of,” he would say in his on court interview.

In truth, suffering from a groin strain, Schwartzman was a shadow of the fierce competitor who downed Marin Cilic and Lucas Pouille. Usually the epitome of consistency, he committed 35 unforced errors to just 21 winners. But, as they say in sport, you can only beat what’s in front of you, and Carreno Busta has eased through in 119 painless minutes. He will certainly be fresh going into the biggest match of his career, against either Sam Querrey or Kevin Anderson in the semifinal.

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