The two tournament favourites draw closer to settling this year’s Rome Masters 1000 title as they successfully reached the last eight on opposing sides of the draw with the second seeded Rafa Nadal seemingly having the easier passage so far.
I'm going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let's see. I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that's it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, it's going to be impossible. That's it Rafa Nadal
The Spaniard playing his first tournament since the six-month coronavirus-enforced break, is warming up for the French Open which starts in nine days time. There he will bid for his 13th title at Roland Garros and 20th Grand Slam to match the record currently held by Roger Federer currently absent until 2021 following knee surgery.
“For me it’s not an obsession at all,” the 34-year-old Nadal told journalists after brushing aside the 25th-ranked Dusan Lajovic 6-1 6-3.
“I always say the same. I did all my career my way, and that’s what I’m going to keep doing,” the King of Clay continued.
“I can’t be all the time thinking about what Roger had or what Novak (Djokovic) or what the other… I know that you (the media) put a lot of attention on all of this.
“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25 (Grand Slams) but that’s something that probably will not happen,” he added with a smile, no doubt in reference to Serena William’s obsession to match and break Margaret Courts record of 24.
“I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see. I just want to keep enjoying tennis.
“And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, it’s going to be impossible. That’s it.”
For Nadal it is always the moment and currently he is happy with his performances bearing in mind the long break the sport has had to endure having not played since winning the Acapulco title last February.
Now he is chasing his third consecutive crown on clay in the Italian capital and 10th in total.
“I played two good solid matches,” he said referring to his opening encounter when he lost just two games.
“I played at, I think, a very positive level of tennis. Of course it needs to keep improving. I need to keep working in a couple of things that things are not coming automatic.
“But I can’t ask for more. Have been another great evening for me against another good opponent. Much better — not what I expected.”
Next for Nadal is the Argentine diminutive dynamo, Diego Schwartzman who overcame a dogged Pole Hubert Hurkacz 3-6 6-2 6-4.
“Always has been very tough and tricky matches against him,” said Nadal who leads the South American 9-0. “I know I have to play very well if I want to have chances and that’s what I’m going to try.”
Meanwhile his main rival for this week’s title, Djokovic had a much tougher time, fighting past friend and countryman Filip Krajinovic 7-6(7) 6-3. Krajinovic in fact led 4-1 in the breaker before Djokovic recovered to claim the opening set after almost 90-minutes of tight play.
“It was definitely one of the longest sets I think I have ever played,” admitted the week’s top seed. “Never easy, I think, emotionally to play against someone that is one of my best friends for many years… I think the first set could have gone a different way, as well.
“Fortunately for me it went my way, and that allowed me to swing through the ball a bit more in the second set. Maybe physically and mentally he dropped a level, and I used my opportunities and capitalized to win in straight sets.”
The Serbian world number one should have a better time in the quarter-finals when he faces a German qualifier, Dominik Kopefer who brought to an end the excellent run of Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti 6-4 6-0 staving off the five break opportunities the 18-year-old had and in turn breaking him to secure his first quarter-final at a Masters event after 70-minutes.
Italy though still have a contender in Matteo Berrettini, the fourth seed, who needed two hours to win an all-Italian clash against Stefano Travaglia 7-6(5) 7-6(1) wasting a break advantage in both sets before sealing them in the tie breaks to remain on course for a semi-final clash with Djokovic.
Casper Ruud might have a say in that though as the Norwegian seems to be enjoying himself in Rome having also reached the last eight at a Master’s for the first time. He defeated the experienced Marin Cilic 6-2 7-6(6) after 93-minutes withstanding some heavy serving in the second set but able to squeeze past in the tie-break.
The last quarter-final places will be filled by Grigor Dimitrov and Denis Shapovalov.
The Bulgarian, seeded 15, took out Jannik Sinner 4-6 6-4 6-4 after two-hours and 24-minutes and was impressed by the young Italian’s fighting spirit who didn’t concede the quarter-final place until the fifth match point.
Dimitrov’s next opponent, Canada’s Shapovalov, seeded two places higher at 12, had an equally testing third round, especially in a frustrating opening set but eventually calmed down and focused to keep his Roman campaign on course with a 6-7(5)6-1 6-4 win over Ugo Humbert of France.