Three former champions have reached the Rome semifinals, led by 7-time winner Rafael Nadal who is set to renew his longtime rivalry with Novak Djokovic.
In an early start, Nadal came from a set down to deny Italian favorite Fabio Fognini 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
“I believe first set, I think it started well with both of us playing well,” said Nadal. “I think I had an opportunity on return at 4-1, but he played some great shots in that game… He played great tennis, hit a lot of winners, taking the ball very early.”
“Having a break early in the second set definitely helped my confidence,” added Nadal. “But then, I think, I played more aggressively with my forehand and I when I play more aggressively with my forehand, then the backhand becomes better. It’s true that I feel that is an important victory for me. There’s a lot of positive things out of the match today.”
Djokovic also went three sets, and nearly blew losing a break lead in the third to hang on for a tough 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Kei Nishikori. The win puts Djokovic into his first semifinal of the season, and pits him against Nadal tomorrow.
“It means a lot to me to be able to play [in the] semi-finals of a tournament again,” said Djokovic. “This is what I was looking forward to. This is what I was hoping to achieve.”
“I’m really happy that I mentally stayed strong,” he said. “In the ending of the third set I really fought and showed some resilience. This victory means a lot to me on different levels, mostly mental.”
Djokovic, a 4-time Rome champion, leads Nadal 26-24 over in their head-to-head and 16-10 in Masters events. But Rafa leads 15-7 on clay and won their most recent meeting a year ago in Madrid 6-2, 6-4, a win that snapped a 7-match streak for the Serb.
“Tomorrow is going to be the ultimate challenge on clay,” Djokovic said. “Beating Rafa is a really difficult thing to do on this surface. But, I’ve done it before.”
This is what I was looking forward to. This is what I was hoping to achieve. Obviously, I don’t want to stop here,” Djokovic added. “I’m a different player today than I was in the time I was winning against him on clay. But I believe in myself. I will go out on the court trying to win… I know he’s in great form. But, look, anything is possible. I’ve been playing some good tennis — really good tennis — this week.”
Added Nadal on the 51st meeting, “When you play some matches like I played against him in our career, you are happy to be part of that… You appreciate it a lot.”
In the second semifinal, defending champion Alexander Zverev will face another big man in Marin Cilic.
Zverev, the defending Rome champion, upped his win streak to 12, though his set streak came to an end in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over David Goffin.
“Just happy to be in another semi-finals. It’s my third week in a row. Of course I’m a little bit tired. But this is part of the game and in the important moments you have to find a way. And that’s what I did tonight,” Zverev said. “I came up with unbelievable shots at the end and I’m in the semi-finals. That’s all that matters.”
Cilic advanced over Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-3 to reach his first career clay Masters semifinal. But Zverev leads 4-2 overall against the Croat.
“It’s going to be a very tough one,” Zverev said. “We’re not dissimilar players. We’re actually quite similar, both around two metres tall. Both serving well and actually move quite well on this surface… it’s going to be a fun one.”
SATURDAY ROME SCHEDULE
CENTRALE Starts at 12:00 noon
SF 4 Elina Svitolina VS Anett Kontaveit
Not Before 3:00 pm
SF 1 Rafael Nadal VS 11 Novak Djokovic
Not Before 5:00 pm
SF 1 Simona Halep VS Maria Sharapova
Not Before 8:00 pm
SF 4 Marin Cilic VS 2 Alexander Zverev
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