Back then, Schwartzman had established himself as a Top 20 mainstay (before his current decline) and was a pesky grinder for the ATP's top-ranked players. Schwartzman had rocked Nadal out of his comfort in their quarterfinal match at Roland Garros in 2018 and was seemingly on course to complete one of the biggest upsets in tennis.
The diminutive Argentine had completed half the task, taking a set and a break lead. Schwartzman had become the first player to puncture Nadal's streak of 37 successive unblemished sets when he won the opener 6-4. The Spaniard, however, averted danger and recovered from a 2-3 deficit in the second set following a rain break to level at 6-3.
Nadal cruised in the next two sets 6-2, 6-2 to close out the win in four in a match that would need an extra day to finish. Looking back at this match, Schwartzman spoke of the glowing praise he received from a fellow countryman and a player regarded as the best footballer of his generation.
In an interview with fellow pros Andrey Rublev, Jan-Lennard Struff, and Christopher Eubanks at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown, Schwartzman explained that he met Messi for the first time in a Barcelona airport shortly after returning from Paris, at a time when the footballer was preparing to play at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Remarkably, Messi recounted Schwartzman's effort in the defeat to Nadal, even stating that the Spaniard was "lucky" due to the rain delay. To his surprise, Schwartzman had no idea that he was actually popular to warrant Messi's attention.
"Yeah, I met him a few years before. But even if you met him, when you see him, it's like too much respect, you don't want to say anything. It's like, 'Okay, Hello Leo!'. You know, it's that you don't want to ask for anything. The first time I met him, it was before the World Cup in Russia in 2018. I had lost against Rafa in the quarterfinals of Roland-Garros and I was a set and a break up."
"And after that date, I had my flight from Barcelona and the Argentinians were doing their preparation for the World Cup there with the national team. So, I went there with a few players and talked to him (Messi)."
"The first thing he said to me was: 'How lucky was Rafa with the rain!'. Because I was a set and break ahead, and the rain stopped the match. I was leading 6-4, 3-1 and break point to lead 4-1, and after that, we played like 15 more minutes then had to come back the next day."
"After that, I lost like too easy for him playing with the sun at noon. But he (Messi) said to me that, so I was thinking, 'Okay, he was watching the match. He knows who I am'."