Nadal, Djokovic advance to Italian Open quarterfinals

Rome, Sep 18 (efe-epa).- Rafael Nadal showed few signs of rust for the second straight match at the Italian Open, striking his ground strokes with authority, precision and depth in a 6-1, 6-3 victory Friday night over Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic.

The Spanish world No. 2 and nine-time Rome Masters champion – who was playing just his second ATP Tour-level match in more than six months – got off to a fast start in that round of 16 match at the Foro Italico just as he did in his second-round 6-1, 6-1 victory over countryman Pablo Carreño Busta on Wednesday.

Putting constant pressure on Lajovic’s service games, Nadal broke serve on his first five attempts en route to a 6-1, 4-0 lead.

In breaking serve the second time, for a 3-1 lead in the first set, the Spaniard won a game that lasted over 10 minutes and finally converted a break point with a blistering forehand down-the-line winner.

Lajovic did not hold serve until the fifth game of the second set, finally ending the drought with a forehand crosscourt winner.

That game marked the beginning of the best stretch of the match for the 25th-ranked Serbian, who closed the deficit to 4-3 with his second service break of the match and a second straight service hold.

Nadal, however, took advantage of numerous unforced errors by his opponent to win the final two games and clinch the victory in an hour and a half.

“I played at I think a very positive level of tennis. Of course it needs to keep improving. I need to keep working on a couple of things that are not coming automatically. But I can’t ask for more,” Nadal was quoted as saying on the ATP Tour’s website, referring to his return after a long, coronavirus-triggered layoff. “(It was) another great evening for me against another good opponent. Can’t complain at all. Much better (than) what I expected.”

Next up for the 19-time Grand Slam champion in Saturday’s quarterfinals will be Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, who rallied to defeat Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday.

Earlier Friday, Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic struggled in the first set against countryman Filip Krajinovic but eventually seized control for a 7-6 (9-7), 6-3 victory.

Djokovic, a four-time champion in Rome, was unable to shake Krajinovic in the first set, which came down to a tiebreaker after the two players exchanged early service breaks.

Prior to that decider, Djokovic had two set points with his opponent serving at 4-5, but Krajinovic saved one with an overhead winner and a second with a winner off a drop shot.

Playing even more solidly from the baseline than the 17-time Grand Slam champion, Krajinovic jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker.

But Djokovic started finding his range from the baseline to win five of the next six points and take a 6-5 lead.

Although he failed to convert two more set points, he wrapped up the opener on his fifth set point when a Krajinovic forehand sailed over the baseline.

The second set was then much more straight-forward for the world No. 1, who secured an early service break and one more to clinch the victory in two hours and seven minutes.

“It was definitely one of the longest sets I think I have ever played,” Djokovic said afterward of the 87-minute opener. “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.”

The Serbian will next take on German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

In women’s singles round-of-16 action on Friday, top-seeded Romanian Simona Halep defeated Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 and in-form Belarusian Victoria Azarenka advanced when Russia’s Daria Kasatkina retired with an injury with the match tied 6-6 in the first set.

The Italian Open is one of the biggest clay-court events on the ATP and WTA calendars and a key tune-up event for the French Open, which due to the pandemic will be played this year in late September and early October. EFE-EPA

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