Argentine Diego Schwartzman continues to enjoy the best tennis season of his life. Today, at the Rolex Paris Masters, the sixth-seeded Schwartzman advanced to the quarterfinals, beating Spanish qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 6-1, 6-1.

“I thought the match was going to be very tough, as we played just ten days ago,” said Schwartzman. That prior battle took place in the quarters of Cologne, Schwartzman rallying past Fokina to win it, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1.

Today was very different. After needing 10 minutes to hold his serve in the opening game, Schwartzman swiftly broke Fokina at 15 and finished the match in an hour.

“I did everything well today, serving and moving well,” said Schwartzman.

Having compiled a 2020 match record of 25-11, the 28-year-old is on the verge of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time. Held in London, the ATP Finals begins on Sunday, November 15.

Schwartzman will automatically qualify if he wins his next match, to be played on Friday versus third-seeded Daniil Medvedev. The two have previously met three times, Medvedev winning them all. Most recently, the two played one another in January at the ATP Cup in Australia. On that occasion, Schwartzman at last took a set from Medvedev, the Russian winning, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, in a match that lasted two hours and 22 minutes.

Should Schwartzman lose to Medvedev, his fate largely rests in Pablo Carreno Busta’s hands. If Carreno Busta wins the title in Paris—an effort that would require beating Rafael Nadal in the quarters on Friday—and reaches the final next week in Sofia, he will remain in contention to take the final spot that Schwartzman is also vying for. But anything short of that, and Schwartzman’s on his way to London. 

Just over three weeks ago, Schwartzman reached a career-high ranking of No. 8 in the world. His success was fueled by a first: excellent results during the European autumn clay-court season. Just after losing in the first round of the US Open, Schwartzman commenced an impressive three-tournament swing on the dirt. During the second week of the US Open, he reached the quarters in Kitzbuhel. The next week was even better. Schwartzman went all the way to the finals in Rome—a run highlighted by a brilliant 6-2, 7-5 quarterfinal win over Nadal, a terrific third-set tiebreaker victory over Denis Shapovalov in the semis, and a valiant effort versus Novak Djokovic, with Schwartzman losing 7-5, 6-3. 

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Then came Roland Garros—and a match that raised Schwartzman’s profile in a major way. Heading into the tournament, his career record there was 9-6, the Argentine’s best effort was a quarterfinal run two years ago. This time in Paris he went even further. First came four wins without the loss of a set, Schwartzman once again reaching the last eight.

Every ounce of Schwartzman’s assets was on display in his Roland Garros quarterfinal battle versus recently crowned US Open champion )and two-time Roland Garros finalist) Dominic Thiem. Over the course of five hours and eight minutes, Schwartzman earned a 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5), 6-2 triumph that was arguably the match of the tournament.

That epic brought Schwartzman to the semis of a major for the first time—at which point, his run was ended by Nadal. Even there, Schwartzman fought valiantly. Over the course of three hours and nine minutes, Schwartzman severely tested Nadal, nearly taking the match into a fourth set before losing, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (0).

Over the last few years, Schwartzman has gradually made his way up the ranks. As recently as the end of 2017, he was ranked No. 26 in the world. Schwartzman began 2020 at No. 14. Currently he’s ranked No. 9. 

But greater than sheer numbers, Schwartzman now occupies a position on the pro circuit previously held by David Ferrer: the undersized underdog with a big game and an arguably even bigger heart. Schwartzman is 5’ 7’ tall, two inches shorter than Ferrer. Tenacious, engaged and constantly keen to strike the ball forcefully, Schwartzman fully throws himself into every match he plays and in so doing, has become a special breed of fan favorite; not exactly on a par with such titans as Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer, but in a cult-like way. People are drawn to him not strictly for greatness, but even more for grit. After their match at Roland Garros, Thiem spoke about Schwartzman at last advancing to the semis of a major and cracking the Top 10.

“I’m happy for him,” said Thiem. “He really deserves it.”

Consider Schwartzman the current people’s choice—a player so popular even those he beats like him.

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