Rome | Nadal and Djokovic dominate in double session; Federer saves match points again
A 22-matches bonanza took place on Thursday, following the cancellation of the entire previous matchday. A dubious scheduling forced the players to start as early as 10 am, as most of the second, and the whole third rounds were completed by night. Therefore, anticipated stars like Nadal and Djokovic had to up their game immediately to make it through, putting on impressive performances, while Roger Federer had to toil against an in-form Borna Coric.
R. Nadal (Spa, 2) d. J. Chardy (Fra, 42) 6-0 6-1
R. Nadal (Spa, 2) d. N. Basilashvili (Geo, 18, seeded 14th) 6-1 6-0
Rafa Nadal is clearly getting his mojo back, as he lost two games in two matches, spending a little more than two hours on court, and storming past the hapless Jeremy Chardy and Nikoloz Basilashvili, doing a favour to all commentators and analysts with such lopsided scores, for there isn’t really much to say about these matches.
Chardy isn’t a great clay-court player, clanking heavily to the sides and hardly bending his knees while hitting the backhand, and such a steamrolling could be expected, although some of the numbers are truly merciless: Chardy didn’t hit a single ace, saved only two break points out of seven, only had one for himself (promptly saved), and won two meagre points on Nadal’s second serve out of 14.
While the first win didn’t say much about Rafa, the second one was a lot more indicative. Basilashvili, who had played his second round match on Tuesday, is a fearless performer (he is the double faults leader on tour), capable of digging holes into the lines’ intersections with his power hitting, and is therefore subject to moments of spleen in which the shots simply can’t find the court. He is thus not a stranger to humbling bashings, and this is what happened, as Nadal simply let him miss everything he could, finishing with five winners to 34 (34!) unforced errors.
The Georgian, who had seriously troubled Nadal at last year’s US Open, put a high 73% of first serves into play, but only one 38% of those points, looking on as the Spaniard’s high net-clearances kept coming back for him to crack under pressure, and this is the best news for the Spaniard, who looked a lot more assured on the run. Nadal again saved the only break point he conceded (in the opening game), losing eight total points on serve, winning emphatically in an hour and two minutes. He will now face fellow Spanish lefty Fernando Verdasco, who impressed for his endurance, but is unlikely to have much left to give.
N. Djokovic (Srb, 1) d. D. Shapovalov (Can, 22) 6-1 6-3
N. Djokovic (Srb, 1) d. P. Kohlschreiber (Ger, 56) 6-3 6-0
And equally impressive was Novak Djokovic, who controlled the flair of one-handers Denis Shapovalov and Philipp Kohlschreiber, spending a total of two hours and 9 minutes on court.
The exceedingly talented Canadian hit some of his uncompromising shots, and looked dangerous with two anticipated return winners early on, but folded as soon as Djokovic created a chance on his serve, doomed by a 35% of firsts put into play, and continued with his negative clay season, just one win in five matches – his all-out, serve-dependent game tends to suffer with the long rallies typical of the surface. To be fair, he wasn’t lucky on the first break, as the passage of the Italian army’s acrobatic pilots above the stadium disrupted his focus before a crucial point, but after that he abandoned the set with a double fault, getting broken again in the sixth game.
The second was tighter, as Djokovic kept creating chances on his opponent’s serve, despite a higher output of firsts from Shapo, but without managing to break at first, even lashing out in frustration after the sixth wasted chance. However, he won the final three games, often wrong-footing the Canadian with his backhand down the line – his super-power against left-handers. He was ultimately always in control, never conceding a break point throughout the match, and finishing with a forceful return that elicited a forehand into the net.
His second match against Kohlschreiber likewise ended in a landslide. The experienced German actually played a good first set, reminding everyone why he had beaten the world No.1 in Indian Wells and had taken him to a decider in Monte-Carlo, setting up winners with his high, heavy trajectories that can somewhat disturb Nole’s forehand. However, part of the Serbian’s charm has always been his ability to let his opponent do his thing, while still retaining control, no matter how much the highlight reel might favour the other man: he broke in the second game with a backhand return to Kohlschreiber’s shoelaces, and didn’t take his foot off the tiger’s neck afterwards, ending on a long return after a kick serve.
In the second set, the German had nothing left to give, having played earlier against Marco Cecchinato, and not possessing Djokovic’s stamina, he crumbled in a little over 20 minutes, being force-fed an ungenerous bagel. Djokovic will next be the headliner of a Friday night showdown with the resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro.
R. Federer (Swi, 3, seeded 4th) d. J. Sousa (Por, 72) 6-4 6-3
R. Federer (Swi, 3, seeded 4th) d. B. Coric (Cro, 15, seeded 13th) 2-6 6-4 7-6 (7)
Roger Federer seems to have developed a sweet tooth for a life on the edge, as he saved two match points to beat Borna Coric to advance to the quarter-finals, after having eliminated Joao Sousa pretty handily in the morning.
The Croatian had already proven that he could hurt Federer with his stingy, often anticipated defence, at times reminiscent of Djokovic’s, and had beaten him on two of his favourite courts last year, on the grass of Halle and on the super-fast hardcourt of Shanghai, where he had reached his first (and so far only) final at the Masters 1000 level – Federer had beaten him handily in Dubai three month ago, though.
Early on, he looked poised to vanquish Federer on clay as well, profiting from his more rested conditions (he had last played on Tuesday) and from a painful blister on the legend’s right hand. Showing his exceptional court-coverage, he returned three very well-placed serves (two slices and a kick), passing with a short forehand and forcing a slice error with another tight angle, getting the early break, and pretty much dominated the first set, behind a great kick serve to Federer’s one-hander and a patient point-construction, taking a 4-0 lead in less than 20 minutes, and taking it in 41 minutes without conceding a break point.
Federer started to settle in, though, and despite a couple deuces on his serve, showed greater reactivity when pressured deep, and earned a break point in the sixth game after a great defence. Coric saved himself with a good body serve, but the tilt seemed about the change for the first time, as the Swiss earned another chance with a Samprasesque forehand on the run, and broke behind a mishit forehand approach. Federer clearly got too comfy though, immediately conceding three counter-break points, saving two with a central attack that flirted successfully with the baseline, a lob, and an inside-in forehand, and held with another line-kissing slice (he was forced to use it more because of the relentless pressure of the Croat) and a wide backhand down the line error. Coric is very much a clutch player, and broke back anyway in the ninth game, forcing a forehand mistake. However, Federer had now found his depth, and kept slicing low balls, eliciting two unforced to get a couple of set points. Coric took the initiative and saved the first, but then Federer somehow put a perfect kick serve back into play, bringing the shocked Croat to miss, and extending the match.
The third set started with four quick holds, before Coric caught fire in the fifth game, earning a break point with a perfect lob and a forehand return winner. Federer reacted, and cancelled it by moving his opponent to force a mistake. Coric pushed again in the ninth game, rising to 0-30, and earned a further chance with a perfect reading of Federer’s drop shot, but another forehand error denied him once more.
No further threats were created, so the tie-break became the only possible solution. Coric got an immediate mini-break thanks to a bad forehand miss by Federer, only to forfeit it as the Swiss hit a hard return from far behind the baseline, seizing control and finishing at the net. The Croat then rose to 3-1 with a great defence, proving himself one of the best at returning Federer’s first serve. He remained in control, obtaining two match points with a rare forehand winner down the line at 6-4, but then Federer threw him two slices, eliciting a backhand into the net, and saved the second with an unreturned serve to the T. It was then his turn to have a match point, but Coric hit a great wide serve. However, the next winning ball for the Swiss occurred on his own serve, as Coric missed a routine forehand. Federer didn’t flinch, and won with a thick forehand passing shot that the Croat failed to get past the net, as the crowd erupted after two hours and 31 minutes. He will now play Stefanos Tsitsipas, whom he last met and beat in the Dubai final.
The hectic pace of matches forced many fan favourites to secondary courts, including Juan Martin Del Potro, who seems to be finding his footing very quickly after a long injury hiatus, and dispatched his opponents in straight sets. His second adversary, Casper Ruud, had profited from a default win against Nick Kyrgios, who lost his temper and hurled a chair on court in the third set. Particularly impressive was the the performance of Fernando Verdasco, who won two battles against Thiem (who made the harshest complaints against the tournament’s scheduling) and Karen Khachanov. Finally, all home players were eliminated, mostly due to Tsitsipas’s good form. Here’s the results from the second round:
D. Schwarzmann (Arg, 24) d. A. Ramos Viñolas (Spa, 88, Q) 7-6 (5) 6-1
F. Verdasco (Spa, 38) d. D. Thiem (Aut, 4, seeded 5th) 4-6 6-4 7-5
K. Nishikori (Jap, 6) d. T. Fritz (USA, 52, Q) 6-2 6-4
J.-L. Struff (Ger, 51) d. M. Cilic (Cro, 10, seeded 9th) 6-2 6-3
J. M. Del Potro (Arg, 9, seeded 7th) d. D. Goffin (Bel, 23) 6-4 6-2
C. Ruud (Nor, 76, Q) d. N. Kyrgios (Aus, 36) 6-3 6-7 (5) 2-1 defaulted
S. Tsitsipas (Gre, 7, seeded 8th) d. J. Sinner (Ita, 263, WC) 6-3 6-2
P. Kohlschreiber (Ger, 56) d. M. Cecchinato (Ita, 19, seeded 16th) 6-3 6-3
F. Fognini (Ita, 11, seeded 10th) d. R. Albot (Mol, 44) 7-6 (6) 6-3
And here’s the third round’s results:
D. Schwarzmann (Arg, 24) d. M. Berrettini (Ita, 33, WC) 6-3 6-4
F. Verdasco (Spa, 38) d. K. Khachanov (13, seeded 11th) 7-5 3-6 6-3
K. Nishikori (Jap, 6) d. J.-L. Struff (Ger, 51) 3-6 7-6 (2) 6-3
J. M. Del Potro (Arg, 9, seeded 7th) d. C. Ruud (Nor, 76, Q) 6-4 6-4
S. Tsitsipas (Gre, 7, seeded 8th) d. F. Fognini (Ita, 11, seeded 10th) 6-4 6-3