Nadal battles past Zverev to reach Italian Open semifinals

Rome, May 14 (EFE).- Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal advanced to the Italian Open semifinals with a 6-3, 6-4 victory Friday over Alexander Zverev, who had defeated the Spanish great last week en route to capturing the Madrid Open title.

On a day when rain disrupted the proceedings at the Foro Italico, Nadal jumped out to a 4-0 lead against an opponent who appeared to be feeling the effects of playing eight matches in 10 days.

But the German went toe-to-toe with the all-time great from that point forward during this round-of-16 contest, in which Zverev tried to use his clean and deep ball-striking to penetrate the king of clay’s defense.

Although the German had dug himself too big of a hole in the first set, he had numerous chances to take a commanding lead in the second set.

Instead, Nadal rallied from 0-40 down on his serve in the third game to level the set at 2-2 and then struck a key blow in the following game, when Zverev squandered a 40-15 lead before dropping serve.

The Spaniard faced two more break points in the ensuing game but steadied his game when it mattered most to get out of trouble once again and take a 4-2 lead.

Zverev fought valiantly the rest of the way and created three break points with Nadal serving for the match at 5-4, but unforced errors on the biggest points sealed his fate in a contest that concluded just shy of the two-hour mark.

“(I am) happy. I played a very solid match with not many mistakes, playing the way that I have to,” the 34-year-old Spaniard said in his post-match interview. “(It is) an important victory for me against a great player.”

Next up for the world No. 3 in Saturday’s semifinals will be big-serving, 2.11-meter (6-foot-11) American Reilly Opelka, who defeated Argentina’s Federico Delbonis 7-5, 7-6 (7-2) on Friday and has not dropped serve once through four matches in Rome.

Due to steady rain later in the day, the other two men’s singles semifinalists will be determined on Saturday.

Greek world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas was leading Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 2-1 in their quarterfinal match on Friday, while Russian world No. 7 Andrey Rublev and 33rd-ranked Italian Lorenzo Sonego had not yet taken the court when play was canceled for the day.

In women’s singles, three of the four semifinalists were determined on Friday.

Ninth-ranked Czech Karolina Pliskova saved three match points before eking out a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-1) victory over Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko and will next take on Croatia’s Petra Martic, a 7-5, 6-4 winner over American Jessica Pegula.

Australian world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, meanwhile, was forced to retire with an arm injury while leading Cori Gauff 6-4, 2-1.

The precocious American teenager will next take on the winner of a quarterfinal match pitting 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek of Poland against sixth-ranked Ukrainian Elina Svitolina.

The Italian Open is one of the biggest clay-court tournaments on the ATP and WTA calendars but also a tune-up for tennis’ most prestigious event on that surface, the French Open, which gets under way on May 30. EFE


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