Up to the quarter-final stage of the Rome Masters, Rafa Nadal could be said to have had a fairly torrid time and when he faced Alexander Zverev for a place in the last four, many expected the German, last week’s Madrid Masters winner, to maintain his winning form over the Spaniard.
I was able to play much more solid than last week. I think I did a lot of things well today. I was able to change more the rhythm of the ball on the point. Yeah, have been a positive match for me. Rafa Nadal
But the 9-time Rome champion was intent on repairing his battered reputation and he did so with his usual composure despite suffering a fall late in the first set.
Nadal, who had played two very tough matches against the Italian teenage prodigy Jannik Sinner and 24-hours earlier survived a marathon against Canada’s rising star Denis Shapovalov, showed no signs of fatigue , saving all eight break points he faced in the second set, as he avenged his previous week’s loss to Zverev 6-3 6-4.
“It’s a completely different match here than Madrid,” Nadal said, pointing out the conditions at the Foro Italico were more in his favour.
“Here situation is a little bit different. Still a very difficult match because he’s a fantastic player. He likes to play here. He already won the tournament here.
“I was able to play much more solid than last week. I think I did a lot of things well today. I was able to change more the rhythm of the ball on the point. Yeah, have been a positive match for me.”
“I suffered a lot yesterday, but I was able to find a way to win a very complicated match. That gives me the chance to be on court again today,” Nadal added. “Today I played much better than yesterday. I did a lot of things well, playing much more solid. So, yeah, I think I played one of the more solid matches on clay this year, against a very tough opponent.
“It’s a great victory for me. Of course it’s important because under pressure, under tough moments that sometimes I lost important points last couple of weeks, today, yesterday, before yesterday too, I was able to manage it well.
“I’m super happy, because after the battle of yesterday, to be able to be on court against a player like Sascha — he had tough match too — but he’s more than 10 years younger than me!”
Having reached his 12th semi-final in Rome, Nadal will have to clear the towering 6’11” hurdle represented by American Reilly Opelka, a surprise semi-finalist on the best run of his career after beating qualifier Federico Delbonis of Argentina 7-5 7-6(2).
Delbonis missed some early chances allowing the big American to capitalise on his howitzer serves as he continued his Rome run to reach the last four of a Masters’ event for the first time in his career.
On this occasion he struck 18 aces and maintained his record of not dropping a set all week.
“I haven’t played much on clay,” Opelka admitted.
“I’m really pleased. We have been working hard. I made some adjustments on my game. It’s nice to see them come into play.”
Looking ahead to their match on Saturday, Nadal commented: “He’s a very tough opponent to play. Super difficult. He has huge, huge serve. So I need to be very focused with my serve and try to give myself some chances on the return.
“I know he has a huge serve and he’s able to play aggressive from the baseline too. So I need to play well.”
Rain prevented the top half of the draw from being completed as hoped leaving the top seeded Novak Djokovic with time on his hand to find a way of handling Stefanos Tsitsipas whom he trails by a set and a break, 6-4 2-1 before play was suspended for a second time.
Tsitsipas had jumped into a 4-0 lead before Djokovic managed to rein in him. Rain halted play with the Greek star leading with a break 4-3 and shortly after play resumed, he collected the first set and went up another break in the second before play was stopped for the day.
The last quarter-final featuring Italian hope Lorenzo Sonego and Russian Andrey Rublev has yet to be called.