Rome, May 15 (EFE).- Rafael Nadal will get the chance for a 10th Italian Open title after defeating Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4 here Saturday.
The 34-year-old Spanish great will have to wait for the outcome of the second semifinal between world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Italy’s own Lorenzo Sonego to find out the identity of his opponent on Sunday.
World No. 3 Nadal needed 92 minutes to dispatch the big-serving 2.11-meter (6-foot-11) American, currently 47th in the global rankings.
The Spaniard’s road to the semifinal was not smooth. He had to save two match points against Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in the third round and was tested in the quarterfinal by Alexander Zverev of Germany, who bested Nadal last week en route to winning the Madrid Open.
Playing his 500th match on clay, the surface he dominates, Nadal saved four break points against Opelka while leading at 2-1 in the first set.
Nadal then broke Opelka in the fifth game and would win another break in the second set against a player who came into the semifinal without having dropped serve since the start of the tournament.
The nine-time Italian Open champion conceded only 13 points as he maintained his success rate on clay at 91.6 percent, by far the best of the Open Era.
With a victory on Sunday, Nadal will match Djokovic’s record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles.
“I did the thing that I had to do today. It is not an easy, beautiful match to play and, (against) a player like Reilly, (to) have rhythm,” Nadal said after beating Opelka.
“You know you are going to have just a few options on your return and you know he can play very aggressive from the baseline. That is what happened at the beginning of the match. He had some options (for the) break and it was super important for me to save those moments,” the Spaniard said.
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 am/dr