British No.1, Cameron Norrie, seeded ninth at the Rome Masters, suffered a blow in his preparation for the French Open, the second Grand Slam of the season which is due to start in 11-days time, after collecting an ankle injury in his second round match with Croatia’s former US Open champion, Marin Cilic.
I finished better than how I started, without a doubt. The beginning of the match was not good for me Rafa Nadal
The Briton required treatment for it in the decider and only just avoided a third set bagel as he capitulated 5-7 6-2 6-1 in the two-hour and 5-minute contest.
Norrie battled hard to take the first set, despite the distraction of a helicopter hovering over the neighbouring Olympic Stadium covering the Coppa Italia Final (Inter Milan beat Juventus 4-2) and seemed to have established control over the veteran Croatian.
Not so for Cilic’s serving proved too strong for Norrie who, as in the opening set, made a poor start but this time failed to recover after falling a break behind in the sixth game.
Then Cilic took complete control by winning the next consecutive nine games, a run which was broken by Norrie calling for treatment when trailing 0-3 in the third.
On resumption, Norrie managed to secure a game before limping off the court to review the situation with Roland Garros very much in mind.
Plenty of other players will be looking forward to the French, including the 13-time champion of Roland Garros Rafa Nada,l who dispatched the big serving American John Isner with ease 6-3 6-1 to open his Roman campaign.
“I finished better than how I started, without a doubt,” said the 10-time Rome champion Nadal. “The beginning of the match was not good for me.
“He had some chances on the return and had two break points. Two not difficult balls so I was in his hands at that moment. I was lucky that he missed those shots and then I was able to break. Then the match changed, of course. With the first set on the board and having the break in the first game of the second, everything changed.”
Nadal will now face the lefty from Canada, the 13th seeded Denis Shapovalov who held match points against Nadal in Rome last year.
“Last year was a joke, the match that I saved here against him,” said Nadal. “Super lucky. I know how dangerous he is, I need to play well, of course. I need to play better than today, but after a while without being on court it is another victory and I have the chance again to play against one of the best players in the world.
“I need to build things again after a tough stoppage and that’s what I am trying now. I just need to stay with the right attitude, and let’s see if I am able to make that happen.”
One of his main rivals for this year’s Rome tile, Alexander Zverev, who won the event in 2017, also got his campaign under way by defeating the young Argentine Sebastian Baez 7-6(6) 6-3.
“It’s not always easy because Madrid is at altitude and the balls are flying like crazy, but here everything is pretty slow. It wasn’t an easy match and I’m happy with the way I played at the end. He played three matches already here, it’s my first, so I’m happy with the win,” said Zverev who reached the final of the Madrid Masters where his performance was disappointing.
Another possible title contender Stefanos Tsitsipas, the fourth seed from Greece, was also a winner, but only just! The two-time Monte Carlo winner needed to go the distance to defeat a rejuvenated Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 5-7 7-6(4).
Tsitsipas saved two match points at 5-4 in the third and was happy when the tie-break was invoked. There unfortunately for the Bulgarian, his form dropped off as Tsitsipas roared into 5-0 lead.
He recovered sufficiently to start applying some late pressure but at 6-4 it was Tsitspas who strode over the finish line, raising his arms in victory following the marathon two-hour 37-minute match.
“It’s like playing in the Colosseum,” Tsitsipas said afterwards in reference to the Foro Italico where the event is being held.
“There’s so much energy coming from the crowd. The people that came and watched the match were so into it, more than us I think.
“And it gave for a great atmosphere and a great gladiator environment on the court.”
Tsitsipas faces Karen Khachanov next.
There was one major upset on Pietrangeli Court when a Lucky Loser from the US, Marcos Giron beat 2020 finalist Diego Schwartzman, the 12th seed from Argentina, 6-1 7-6(4). He will now face the Canadian 8th seed, Felix Auger Aliassime who beat Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 4-6 7-6(2) 6-2.
Elsewhere Australia’s Alex de Minaur beat American Tommy Paul 7-5 6-4, and Jenson Brooksby of the US, upended Belgium’s David Goffin 6-0 7-6(4) while Italy’s Jannik Sinner took out compatriot Fabio Fognini 6-2 3-6 6-3 and Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka set up a meeting with the top seeded Novak Djokovic after finally dispatching Serbia’s Laslo Djere 7-6(8) 3-6 6-4.