Rafael Nadal enjoyed his easiest day of the clay season getting an early retirement from compatriot Nicolas Almagro who ended the match down 3-0 with a knee injury.
Nadal will continue his bid for an eighth Rome title tomorrow against Jack Sock. The American edged Jiri Vesely 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1).
Nadal has won all three meetings with Sock most recently in Miami in March. But Sock did take a set from Nadal at the French in 2015 and later that year in Beijing.
Another tasty match-up is also lined-up for Thursday. Kei Nishikori knocked out David Ferrer for the second straight week, and he’ll now face Juan Martin del Potro. Del Potro cruised past Kyle Edmund 7-5, 6-4.
“I think I’m playing better (than 2016), for sure,” said del Potro. “Last year, I was trying to win a couple of matches at this moment of the year, and now I’m beating good guys. I’m playing well, and I think my game can still improve week by week. It’s going to be a big challenge for me to play three tournaments on clay in a row after many years.”
Del Potro leads Nishikori 4-1 and had won 10 straight sets until losing their most recent meeting in Beijing quarters last fall.
“It’s going to be a difficult match,” said del Potro of playing Nishikori. “I think he has everything to win because he’s playing so well. I’m just starting to play on this surface after my family problems. But we have never played on a clay court, so it could be an interesting match. I need to play even better than today to beat Kei.”
Last week, Benoit Paire ousted Stan Wawrinka. This week, Wawrinka got the better of their friendship beating the Frenchman in three 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.
Wawrinka moves on to meet American big man John Isner.
Also, Roberto Bautista Agut outlasted Pablo Carreno Busta 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-4. He’ll now take on Novak Djokovic tomorrow. And for the second time in less than a week, Dominic Thiem took out Pablo Cuevas, beating the Uruguayan 7-6(4), 6-4. Thiem will face surprising American Sam Querrey who was a winner over Jan-Lennard Struff.
“I’m feeling a little bit [tired], but I have very good confidence right now. The match was good and it was a very tough opponent. I’m really happy that I won it again,” said Thiem. “The serve was more important in Madrid because of the altitude. I didn’t face a break point, and it was also way more difficult to break him. There were more long rallies today and the game was decided more from the baseline.”
Milos Raonic and Alexander were winners as well. Raonic will test Tomas Berdych in a battle of robots while Zverev faces the flamboyant Fabio Fognini.
“He’s very entertaining to watch, and I like it. I like how the crowd is supporting him, and I like how the crowd is always behind him and always has his back,” said Zverev. “I really enjoy that, even though I will play against him tomorrow.
“The stadium will be very loud for him. It’s going to be a fun day, a fun atmosphere and a great match.”
THURSDAY ROME SCHEDULE
CENTRALE start 12:00 noon
ATP – F. Fognini (ITA) vs  A. Zverev (GER)
WTA –  J. Konta (GBR) vs  V. Williams (USA)
ATP – R. Bautista Agut (ESP) vs  N. Djokovic (SRB)
Not Before 7:30 pm
ATP –  J. Sock (USA) vs  R. Nadal (ESP)
Not Before 9:00 pm
WTA – T. Bacsinszky (SUI) vs  K. Pliskova (CZE)
NEXT GEN ARENA start 11:00 am
WTA – [Q] A. Kontaveit (EST) vs  M. Lucic-Baroni (CRO)
Not Before 12:00 noon
ATP –  D. Goffin (BEL) vs  M. Cilic (CRO)
ATP –  T. Berdych (CZE) vs  M. Raonic (CAN)
Not Before 4:00 pm
WTA – J. Goerges (GER) vs [Q] J. Ostapenko (LAT) or  G. Muguruza (ESP)
Not Before 7:00 pm
ATP –  D. Thiem (AUT) vs S. Querrey (USA)
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